While the hot topics at this year’s MWC2016 have generally revolved around 5G, the IoT, digital transformation, virtual reality and whatever Mark Zuckerberg says, a recurring topic has been the debate in the US regarding Apple’s refusal to build a tool for the FBI to break the encryption of the iPhone used by one of the terrorists involved in last December’s terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California.
And so the question that has come up onstage several times at the conference is: which is more important, encryption-secured privacy or giving government agencies the tools to break that encryption?
Opinions were mixed.
Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco Systems, brought up the subject when asked about the importance of protecting privacy on a general level.
“Encryption is a very important safeguard to privacy. It’s not appropriate to provide backdoors to that encryption,” he said during a keynote interview at MWC Wednesday. “It’s a false choice – it’s not a case where it’s one or the other. The technology is not the challenge – we have to figure out the rules of the road so that we can navigate these issues.”
During a morning keynote session Tuesday themed around securing digital identity, GSM Association CMO Michael O’Hara deliberately put the Apple question to all four speakers. Here’s how they responded.
Anne Bouverot, Chair and CEO of Morpho: “Yes, we all want to use smartphones and so privacy is very important, but we also want the government to protect us against terrorist attacks. The technology isn’t the problem. We need solutions to address the balance between privacy and security.”
Simon Segars, CEO of ARM: “It’s a complex situation. There are a lot of wrongs and rights. But I think we will see more cases like it, so now is a great time to explore this issue in detail, and develop a framework for it that makes everyone happy. Users should have control over encryption, but there will be extreme exceptions to that as well.”
Pavel Durov, founder and CEO of Telegram (which offers an encrypted messaging service and currently has 100 million users): “I’m definitely on the side of Tim Cook,” he said to applause. “There’s a real risk that if your iPhone gets stolen, without encryption you could be blackmailed, for example. If Apple builds tools to unlock encryption, I think that’s too dangerous.”
Sigve Brekke, president and CEO of Telenor: “I won’t comment on it, except to say that we have these issues in all of our markets. So regulators need to look at [mobile] as a regional business, not a national business.”
BONUS TRACK: For non-MWC-related in-depth commentary on the Apple/FBI debate, check out: