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What Apple's 'Win' Over FBI Means For The Tech Community


We're going to get some more of the tech community's perspective on the news that DOJ got access to the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone without forcing Apple to help them. And we reached Nico Sell. She's co-founder of the Wickr Foundation. That's the nonprofit arm of the encrypted messaging app company Wickr. Welcome to the program.

NICO SELL: Thanks for having me today. This is an important topic.

CORNISH: When you came to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED about a month ago, you were firmly on the side of Apple. You called Tim Cook a national security hero. What's your reaction to the day's news?

SELL: I think this is a big victory for us, nothing really shocking to me. I think we've known for a long time that there are people that can hack into anything, and we're just always trying to make technology better.

CORNISH: One thing that happened - with all the publicity drawn to this cases, does it seem like it was basically an open invite to hackers everywhere to try and break into the iPhone? Is that what happened, essentially (laughter), and you know, how do people deal with this?

SELL: Yeah, I think it is. And that's a great thing. An open invitation to hackers is something that we have a Wickr and many technology companies have in the form of bug bounties. And really the idea is everyone knows that there's holes in their system.

And the idea of a bug bounty is that you're engaging the entire global community to say, hey, we value your research, and we couldn't do this alone; come to us if you find flaws so that we can fix the system and make it better for everyone. And this is something that many technology companies do and one thing that Apple could do better.

CORNISH: But there was this big fear from the tech industry - you and others - about, you know, if the government, if the FBI got a kind of way into the iPhone or forced the company to help them crack into this phone, that privacy and security would be in danger. And now they have found that, right? I mean, isn't this bad news for...

SELL: Well, that wasn't the argument.

CORNISH: ...Security and privacy the same - OK.

SELL: The argument was, don't compel an innocent corporation to build brand new code which they consider dangerous, and that's where the line is drawn with the technology community.

CORNISH: But you're saying if they find a way in, then that's OK.

SELL: We - hackers know that there's a way into everything, and it's a cat-and-mouse game. And our job is to continually fix it and make it better. And what's great about the fact that this conversation has made it to the mainstream is that I think we - you know, we've learned that as a community, and there will be more effort spent on security in fixing these holes, which is fantastic.

CORNISH: In a way, the courts never did answer this question, though - right? - of whether the government can compel a company to crack open its security technology. Do you see this as the end of the discussion?

SELL: It's definitely not the end of the discussion. But how I see it is that as of today, there is no legal authority in the United States to make me or any other technology company change their code and change it in a way that they think is devastating to not only their customers but national world security.

CORNISH: How concerned are you that at some point down the line, the federal government will be back and could be back to a company like Wickr, making this demand (inaudible). How have you guys started to think about this differently as a result of what happened to Apple?

SELL: Well, I think that we still feel like there is no legal authority for the government to come back in the way that it did this time. What they did is they tried to compel Apple to write dangerous code, and I think, really, you know, thinking about ways that we can work together. And when there is information out there, I think tech companies are happy to work with the government, but we're not willing to make dangerous weapons that don't exist.

CORNISH: So you're prepared to fight further.

SELL: Definitely. This is a really important issue.

CORNISH: Nico Sell - she's co-founder of Wickr, the encrypted messaging app company. She now heads their foundation. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

SELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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