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Apple CEO Tim Cook Talks Security, Tax Reform at UTC Awards

Salt Lake City—After recent months of government scrutiny over Apple’s encryption system for its iPhones and iPads, it’s no wonder the tech giant’s CEO gets a little impassioned over the subject.

“We think civil liberties are at the root of what being an American is. It defines us,” said Tim Cook, speaking at the Utah Technology Council’s annual awards Friday. “We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, and we should protect it.”

Cook, whose keynote remarks were in a question-and-answer format across from Sen. Orrin Hatch, said Apple is a company with strong values at its core and that has tried to improve the world around it.

“Apple is about making the world’s best product—not the most, the best—and we keep that at the center of everything we do. That’s our North Star. Whenever we have a decision to make, we look to that,” Cook said. “We want to leave the world better than we found it. We protect people’s privacy even when it’s hard and not popular. We’ve really focused on the environment, on nature, and leaving the environment better than it was. … We try really hard to stay true to those and, for the most part, I think we do a good job.”

Apple came under fire last year after investigators piecing together a shooting in San Bernadino issued a court order to Apple, demanding they build a back door or otherwise override the security and encryption on a suspect’s iPhone to allow investigators access the information. Apple resisted. The case was resolved through a reported third party helping investigators retrieve the information before it could go to trial. The question of privacy verses security, however, has lingered.

Cook said because of the increased reliance people have on their smartphones (hopefully, he added jokingly, all iPhones), the average person now has more personal information stored on their phone than they do in their house.

“If someone broke into your house and went through your files, they wouldn’t have nearly the access to information that they would on your phone,” Cook said. We take that very seriously. We feel we have a responsibility to our customers.”

As for allowing a means for investigators to access phones if needed, Cook said there is no way to do that without also allowing a means for criminals to potentially access the same information.

“There is no such thing as a back door for the good guy. A back door is a back door for everybody. It’s a flaw in the code that can be exploited. We felt like we had to stand on principle [in defying the court order],” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting.”

Cook also spoke strongly about the need for tax reform, both in the U.S. and abroad. The U.S.’s tax system, however, should be changed quickly to allow businesses that sell goods overseas and are taxed on that profit in the country of sale to use that money domestically without being taxed again, he said, calling the current tax system “bizarre.” Roughly $2 trillion in funds from overseas sales from U.S. companies collectively, he said, aren’t being used in the U.S. because of the current tax code; however, if the tax code were to be changed, he said he believed that money would be brought back into U.S. borders and used domestically.

“It doesn’t make sense that we’d turn our back on $2-plus trillion,” he said.

Cook said when Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, he was overwhelmed to be trying to fill the iconic businessman’s shoes and got a close glimpse of how much Jobs really did to shield employees from outside criticism.

“I didn’t know how noisy the world was. I didn’t know the level of scrutiny there would be. I didn’t understand the importance of engaging the government. So I had to learn fast,” he said. “I had to learn to develop thick skin. Not to not care, because that’s not in my DNA, but I had to learn to turn the volume off. When the world is noisy, you sometimes have to find what’s important and focus on that.”

The future of Apple—and of technology as a whole—rests on the shoulders of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and developers who are just kids today, Cook said. To that end, he said, Apple has taken programs into more than 150 schools nationwide, including Jackson Elementary and Glendale Middle Schools in Utah, to help bring coding education to young people. Included in the education is training in Swift, a coding language used by Apple. Even if the bulk of those children don’t go into coding or technology, Cook said, the logic required for coding can be applied to many fields.

“In the schools I’ve been to, [coding] is catching on. It’s wonderful,” he said. “We think it’s a core part of the future toolkit for people and we’re trying to push it.”