Experts: Why Apple's Tim Cook was right to call for a privacy debate

"In the wrong hands, this software -- which does not exist today -- would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession," Cook penned in an open letter.

Apple could have quietly dealt with a request from the FBI that it hack into the iPhone owned by the couple that killed 14 people in San Bernardino last year. However, CEO Tim Cook’s open letter and call for a public debate on privacy and security will pay off for the company, PR pros said.  

In the letter, posted on Apple’s website on Tuesday, Cook explained that a judge’s order to build a backdoor into the iPhone owned by Syed Farook poses a threat to all Apple customers.

"In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession," Cook penned. 

He added that the issue calls for public discussion and that he wants Apple customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

Scott Farrell, president of global corporate communications at Golin, commended Cook for being proactive and transparent about the government request. He told PRWeek that Apple could have easily "lawyered up" on this issue, dealing with it "in the shadows and on a response-only basis."

"The letter provides the opportunity to explain the issue in simple terms and one that is likely to engender understanding and support from the customer base," Farrell added. "In the end, I think Apple will get credit for doing the right thing on this issue."

Krista Canfield, Gogobot’s VP of communications, was impressed with Cook’s call for a public discussion.

"Public debates can be a great way to involve the community and to educate people about important issues and the repercussions of the decisions at hand," she says. "Tim Cook's letter is a compelling effort to pull all of us into the fold and to spark public discussion about whether or not investigators ought to be able to have potential backdoor access to our data."

On the flip side, however, debates can sometimes generate more questions than answers, Canfield noted.

For example, in Cook’s letter, he said, "We have even put that data out of our own reach..."

"[It is difficult to] know what that means and [if] you feel confident in that," Canfield said.

Regardless, Canfield explained that encryption and security are complicated topics, but given the massive impact they have on personal privacy, everyone should be more knowledgeable about them.

"Today's smartphones are many things -- not only are they our phone, they're also our photo album, email account, wallet, personal journal, and tracking device," she says. "Creating an opening for governments or other entities to access this level of personal information is both invasive and potentially dangerous."

Canfield added that this is an important topic not only for the tech community, but for the public as a whole.

What others are saying
Apple has largely been praised on social media for rejecting the FBI’s request. Social activist and whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted his support for Cook’s decision on Wednesday.

But GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump criticized Apple’s decision on Wednesday, saying national security is more important than fears about invasion of privacy.

And some Twitter users were skeptical about Apple’s motives.

One user questioned whether the decision would actually anger customers.

And the letter did leave some people confused.

The White House said on Wednesday that that Department of Justice is asking the tech giant for access to a single device – not to "create a new backdoor to its products."

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