Bis repetita. An air of deja vu hangs over a battle that has been waged in recent days between the American administration and Apple. The Cupertino giant refuses, for the moment, to accede to the request of the American president, Donald Trump, and of his attorney general, William Barr. They demand that Apple unlock the two iPhones of the alleged perpetrator of a shooting at an American naval base that killed four people, including the shooter, on December 6, 2019.

"We help Apple all the time in trade and in so many other areas, yet [society] continues to refuse to unlock the iPhone from killers, drug traffickers and other violent crimes", s 'took away the tenant of the White House, on Twitter, Tuesday, January 14. He echoed William Barr who, the day before, had deplored the lack of cooperation on the part of the manufacturer of the famous smartphones in the investigation into what the Attorney General called a terrorist act.

Here we go again, another Con Job by the Do Nothing Democrats. All of this work was supposed to be done by the House, not the Senate!

- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2020

Tim Cook resists

The Justice Department said the FBI needed to access discussions that Mohammed Alshamrani, the Saudi suspect suspected of being the perpetrator, may have had on secure messaging services like Signal or Telegram. The investigators want to know if he had mentioned his plans to attack the naval base with possible accomplices.

But the US government could have suspected that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, would resist. He had already made it a matter of principle in 2016, when the administration of Barack Obama asked him to unlock the iPhone of one of the two authors of the shooting of San Bernardino, which had killed 14 people in 2015. The boss of the apple brand had brandished the imperative of personal data protection to oppose FBI requests. He explained that offering the investigators the solution for this specific iPhone would then have made it possible to unlock any other iPhone, which he considered unacceptable.

The debate over whether the importance of safeguarding the privacy of smartphone users outweighed the need to assist an investigation in a case as sensitive as mass murder had raged for months. "It was a remarkable marketing operation by Tim Cook," said Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University, to the New York Times. The Apple CEO had appeared as the great defender of privacy against the FBI and its competitors, Google and Facebook, who were pinned for a rather lax management of personal data.

The strange good relationship between Tim Cook and Donald Trump

Since then, Apple has made it one of the main markers of its difference in the tech world. But the battle with the Trump administration risks putting Tim Cook's determination to the test. The entrepreneur has cultivated "an amazing alliance" with the 45th President of the United States since taking office, says the Wall Street Journal. He has had dinner with Donald Trump at least twice in his Mar-a-Lago residence and has phoned him several times to advise him on the economic strategy to follow vis-à-vis China. Tim Cook even let Donald Trump lie without flinching when the latter said, in October 2019, that he had allowed the opening of a new factory for manufacturing Mac computers in Texas which "would create many jobs". In reality, this site had already existed for six years.

This complacency towards Donald Trump of a big boss who had however openly displayed his preference for Hillary Clinton in 2016 has largely served the interests of Apple. The group was thus systematically spared the sanctions that Washington imposed on imports of Chinese products. The Trump administration's tax reform has allowed the tech giant to repatriate billions of dollars to the U.S. with minimal taxes.

Apple fears "that a president as unpredictable as Donald Trump will be able to completely change his attitude towards him if he persists" to defend tooth and nail the protection of the personal data of his users, explains the New York Times. Will Tim Cook be ready to sacrifice on the altar of principles this fruitful relationship he built with the American president? In 2016, he deemed it unlikely that Barack Obama would take revenge for refusing to help the FBI unlock the iPhone. It is much less clear with the current president. The outcome of this battle will be a crucial test to find out how much the boss of Apple really values ​​privacy.

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