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On Leadership

How they line up on Apple vs. the FBI

A debate has erupted between Apple and the FBI over the unlocking of a phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre. Tech CEOs, politicians and public figures have weighed in – citing issues such as privacy, security and civil liberties. Get the latest updates on the story.

“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”

— Tim Cook, CEO, Apple. Read more.

“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly.”

— James Comey, FBI Director. Read more.

Edward Snowden

Former National Security Agency contractor

Mark Zuckerberg

CEO and founder, Facebook

Mark Cuban

Dallas Mavericks owner, tech investor

Jack Dorsey

CEO and co-founder, Twitter and Square

Jan Koum

CEO and co-founder, WhatsApp

Sundar Pichai

CEO, Google

Ron Wyden

Democratic Senator, Oregon

Ted Cruz

Republican presidential candidate

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate

William J. Bratton

New York Police Department Commissioner

Tom Cotton

Republican Senator, Arkansas

Dianne Feinstein

Democratic Senator, California

Cyrus Vance

Manhattan District Attorney

Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate

Bill Gates

Founder, board member and former CEO of Microsoft

Marco Rubio

Republican presidential candidate

Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate

Edward Snowden, former National Security Agency contractor

Snowden, who supplied journalists with confidential government documents, tweeted that “The @FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on #Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around,” followed by multiple comments on the debate. “The #FBI's insecurity mandate on #Apple will hurt ordinary citizens, not criminal masterminds,” he wrote.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder, Facebook

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Facebook CEO said “we're sympathetic with Apple on this one. We believe in encryption; we think that that's an important tool.” Yet he also said the company feels it has a responsibility in running the massive social network. “And if we have opportunities to basically work with government and folks to make sure that there aren't terrorist attacks, then we're obviously going to take those opportunities.” Finally, he said “I don't think requiring backdoors into encryption is either going to be an effective way to increase security or is really the right thing to do for just the direction that the world is going in.”

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, tech investor

In a lengthy blog post, Cuban wrote that his response to Apple's refusal was “Amen. A standing ovation. They did the exact right thing by not complying with the order. They are exactly right that this is a very, very slippery slope.” He also proposed a law to clear things up: “Typically, I am for fewer laws rather than more, but I’m also pragmatic. We should be asking our lawmakers to enact a law that fits the need of this situation and situations like this [could cut here for graphic] so rather than being on an eternally slippery slope of privacy violations hidden behind the All Writs Act, we have a law that will truly limit the circumstances where companies like Apple can be compelled to help a government agency crack a device.”

Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder, Twitter and Square

On Twitter (where else?) Dorsey tweeted that “We stand with @tim_cook and Apple (and thank him for his leadership)!”

Jan Koum, CEO and co-founder, WhatsApp

Koum said on Facebook, which bought his hugely popular messaging app in 2014, that “I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to protect user data and couldn't agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today. We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”

Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google

In a series of tweets, Pichai called Cook's open letter “important,” saying that “forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users' privacy.” He noted that law enforcement faces challenges and that Google gives access when there are “valid legal orders," but writes “that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent.”

Ron Wyden, Democratic Senator, Oregon

Wyden tweeted that the “FBI request to Apple is bad for Americans’ online safety & security, could empower repressive regimes #NoBackdoors.” He included a statement that read, in part, that “no company should be forced to deliberately weaken its products. In the long run, the real losers will be Americans' online safety and security.”

Ted Cruz, Republican presidential candidate

Cruz acknowledged in a Feb. 17 CNN Town Hall that there has to be a balance between issues of security and civil liberties — “I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. Ultimately, however, he thinks “law enforcement has the better argument" and "nobody has a right to defy a legal search warrant. And the way our process works, look, banks all the time keep financial records. And if you or I are a terrorist, if we're a drug dealer, and a search warrant is served on your bank, they can get your financial records. That's how the law enforcement system works.”

Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate

Trump has called for a boycott of Apple over its refusal to help the FBI with the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter, tweeting that “if Apple doesn't give info to authorities on the terrorists I'll only be using Samsung until they give info.” And in a town hall on MSNBC last week, he said “I think it's disgraceful that Apple is not helping on that,” noting that “Apple should absolutely -- we should force them to do it.”

William J. Bratton, New York Police Department Commissioner

The New York Police Department commissioner wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times Monday that Apple CEO Tim Cook's position “is hyperbolic,” writing that “how is not solving a murder, or not finding the message that might stop the next terrorist attack, protecting anyone?” In a statement, he wrote that “No device, no car, and no apartment should be beyond the reach of a court ordered search warrant.”

Tom Cotton, Republican Senator, Arkansas

The Republican senator from Arkansas issued a statement that called Apple the “company of choice for terrorists, drug dealers, and sexual predators of all sorts.” In it, he also said “Apple chose to protect a dead Isis terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people.”

Dianne Feinstein, Democratic Senator, California

Apple should “produce the information” to the FBI based on a “probable cause warrant,” Feinstein (D-Calif.), told PBS NewsHour. If Apple denies the request, the vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said she’d draft a bill to change the laws and force Apple to comply: “We are in jeopardy if you cannot, through proper evidence submitted by a probable cause warrant, be able to open these systems,” she said.

Cyrus Vance, Manhattan District Attorney

The Manhattan District Attorney, in a joint statement with the NYPD's Bratton, said “Apple and Google have created the first warrant-proof consumer products in American history, and the result is that crimes are going unsolved and victims are being left beyond the protection of the law.” In a statement issued Tuesday, he said he supports legislative action on encryption.

Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential candidate

Speaking at a MSNBC-Telemundo town hall last week, Clinton said “I see both sides, and I think most citizens see both sides. We don’t want privacy and encryption destroyed, and we want to catch and make sure there’s nobody else out there whose information is on the cell phone of that killer.” She also called it “a legitimate dilemma,” and called for the government and tech companies to “keep working together to see that there isn't some legitimate way to help deal with these kinds of very real world problems that we face.”

Bill Gates, founder, board member and former CEO of Microsoft

In an interview with the Financial Times, Gates broke from the pack of many tech leaders, saying “this is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They're not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case.” But he later disputed the headline of the piece, which said he sided with the FBI, saying he was “disappointed” by it in an interview with Bloomberg News. Gates said he thinks the issue will be decided by the courts and Congress, and that it will require striking a balance. “I do believe that with the right safeguards there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable.”

Marco Rubio, Republican presidential candidate

More nuanced than his fellow leading candidates for the Republican nomination, Rubio has said “there has to be a way to deal with this issue that continues to protect the privacy of Americans, but creates some process by which law enforcement and intelligence agencies could access encrypted information.” Calling it complicated, he said “I don't have a magic solution for it today” and that “I do know this: It will take a partnership between the technology industry and the government to confront and solve this.”

Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate

When asked which side of the debate between Apple and the FBI he is on at a recent town hall, Sanders replied “I'm on both,” saying “it's a very complicated issue.” He said “I am very fearful in America about big brother,” but “what I also worry about is the possibility of another terrorist attack against our country. And frankly, I think there is a middle ground that can be reached.”