Apple Helped UK Terrorism Investigations By Handing Over Metadata: How Is This Different From Breaking Encryption?

In an interview with Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that the company has helped United Kingdom officials in their investigations on the series of terrorist attacks launched within the country.

Apple has reportedly released metadata to UK officials to assist with the investigations. Is this different from breaking encryption, which the company refused to do so for the FBI last year?

Apple Hands Over Metadata To UK Officials

In the interview, held after the first day of Apple's WWDC 2017, Cook was asked on Apple's stance regarding the issues of privacy and security amid the terror attacks happening around the world.

"We have been cooperating with the U.K. government not only in law enforcement kind of matters but on some of the attacks," Cook answered.

Cook added that while he could not give further details, Apple provided the information promptly once the lawful process is followed.

The issue is once again in the spotlight due to a third terror attack in the UK in less than three months. A group of terrorists on the evening of June 3 swerved a van into people on London Bridge, then went on a stabbing spree using knives. Last month, a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people in Manchester after an Ariana Grande concert. In March, a lone attacker rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer outside Parliament.

Cook did not specify which attacks required Apple's assistance. There has been little detail on how the terrorists communicated with one another to plan the attacks, but Cook said that he believes Apple provided valuable information to the investigations.

Metadata vs. Encryption

Last year, Apple clashed with the FBI regarding the issue of encryption, particularly regarding the iPhone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino tragedy of December 2015. The FBI wanted Apple to break the encryption of the iPhone through a special version of the iOS to look into the shooter's communications. However, Apple refused to do so, claiming that there is no way to guarantee control over such software that can bypass the iPhone's encryption.

Cook, however, clarified that providing metadata is different from breaking encryption.

"Encryption doesn't mean there's no information," Cook said, noting that metadata, which still exists despite encryption, can help authorities put together a profile for an attacker. Metadata reveals details regarding sent and received messages, including the time, location, and contacts involved, but not the content of these messages.

Metadata, therefore, already provides extremely helpful information to investigators without Apple defying its promise of protecting user data through encryption.

Cook Dismayed Over US Withdrawal From Paris Agreement

In the same interview, Cook expressed dismay over President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change.

"He decided wrong," Cook said, adding that the move was not in the best interest of the country. Cook is said to have talked with Trump before the president's decision, urging him to keep the United States in the climate accord, which covers initiatives that look to reduce pollution and lessen the effects of climate change.

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