Apple Takes on Washington

Steve Jobs famously disdained D.C. Tim Cook’s quietly taking it on.

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Once a political neophyte, CEO Tim Cook now occupies a public role in politics unlike any CEO in Silicon Valley, and his unique approach has rewired his company’s political strategy. “Companies live in the shadow of their leaders,” said Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group that counts Apple as a member. “And I think this is no different.” (Cook declined to be interviewed for this story.)  It’s the privacy debate, arguably above all else, that’s galvanized Cook’s activism and primed him to make his mark in Washington in a way that Jobs rarely did. It is an issue that could define relations between government and citizenry—and tech companies and their customers—for a long time to come, and for Cook it is as much about profits as principle.   Apple’s text message and video chatting services offer end-to-end security, meaning the iPhone giant can’t see users’ communications and give the data to the government when it comes knocking. Cook has long celebrated this fact, emphasizing that Apple does not collect troves of customer information in the way its competitors, namely Google, currently do. But Apple’s staunch defense of encryption has infuriated law enforcement officials, especially FBI Director James Comey. He’s repeatedly called for “backdoors” into digital communications in order to find criminals and terrorists who are “going dark,” a suggestion Apple considers to be anathema.   AG Holder, who spoke with POLITICO about his lunch with Cook, said the CEO has long framed his staunch defense of privacy as a matter of conviction. He spoke about encryption then not as an intricate discussion about technology policy, but one where the wrong answer could be “inhibiting [to] human rights.”   “I thought Tim’s perspective on the question of encryption … had a degree of legitimacy that I think others in government were not willing to acknowledge,” Holder said. “It didn’t mean I agreed with it 100 percent, but I certainly thought in trying to formulate policy in this area, and what the government’s position was ultimately going to be, that he raised valid concerns that have to be considered.”

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