Ex-NSA, CIA chief Michael Hayden sides with Apple in FBI iPhone encryption fight

Ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden talks encryption
(Image credit: The Wall Street Journal/YouTube)

Apple and the U.S. government are gearing up for a public and legal battle over FBI Director James Comey's demand that Apple give the FBI a tool to break the passcode on San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone, a tool Apple argues create a "backdoor" around the iPhone's security, putting customer privacy and safety at risk and setting a dangerous precedent in the U.S. and abroad. Google CEO Sundar Pichai sided with Apple on Wednesday, but Apple CEO Tim Cook also got a more surprising endorsement for his stand against the FBI: Gen. Michael Hayden, former NSA director (1999-2005) and CIA chief (2006-2009).

In a conversation with Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey posted Wednesday, Hayden said that he understands both sides of the unbreakable end-to-end encryption debate, but when it comes to demanding a backdoor, "I think Jim Comey's wrong." Comey's logic, Hayden said, "is based on the belief that he's the main body, and that you should accommodate your movements to the movements of him, which is the main body. And I'm telling you, with regard to the cyber domain, he's not — you are."

The entire debate over private encryption versus government access is like a "medieval morality play," Hayden said, and "if I were in Jim Comey's job, I'd have Jim Comey's point of view." But after taking part in these discussions inside the U.S. intelligence community since the 1990s, he told Bussey, he could win the pro–encryption argument on both national security grounds — "America is simply more secure with unbreakable end-to-end encryption" — and in a "slam dunk" when he includes the "broad health of the United States." Before you start hailing Hayden as a civil-libertarian hero, though, watch where he goes at the 6:30 mark. Peter Weber

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