Apple has previously rejected government requests to unlock its phones.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has penned a letter to the US Congress urging lawmakers to enact federal privacy legislation. The law being requested would forbid app developers from passing user data to third parties without consent, and would crack down on targeted advertising. Apple is apparently better positioned than its competitors to comply with such a law.
Cook met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and on Friday sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Commerce committees, three of whom have collaborated on a draft privacy bill released earlier this month.
“At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right,” Cook wrote. “It is why we have consistently advocated for comprehensive privacy legislation and contributed to the process whenever possible.”
Cook boasted about his own company’s minimal data collection, but wrote that “only Congress can provide strong privacy protections for all Americans. The continued absence of this important legislation will unfortunately perpetuate a patchwork approach to privacy rights that leaves too many without the rigorous standards we hope to see.”
In the absence of federal privacy legislation, individual states set their own data privacy laws. Only five states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia – have passed laws granting people the right to access and delete personal information and to opt out of the sale of this personal information, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In its current draft form, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act would require tech firms to collect only data deemed “necessary,” and would require these companies to ask users to opt in to the sharing of this data with third parties, such as advertisers and market researchers. Consumers would have the right to view and delete data held by tech firms, and firms engaged in targeted advertising to minors would be “expressly prohibited.”
By encouraging such a bill to be passed, Apple would likely be giving itself a leg up over the competition, according to an article in Mashable on Saturday. The tech site argued that other firms would need longer to adapt to any potential regulation, and that Apple has already profited handsomely by marketing itself as more privacy-conscious than rivals Facebook and Google.
Most notably, Apple in 2016 resisted pressure from the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters responsible for a massacre in San Bernardino, California. A day before the FBI was due to take Apple to court, the agency backed off, having found an Israeli firm able and willing to crack the phone.
Yet Cook’s company does not support every attempt by Congress to regulate its industry. Antitrust legislation currently working its way through the Senate would force Apple to allow competing app stores on its devices, which would break its monopoly over which apps iPhone and iPad users can install. Although Cook lobbied against this legislation, claiming that it would allow unsafe and “data hungry” apps onto Apple devices, the bill is reportedly expected to pass as early as this month.