AT&T’s CEO says Congress, not Silicon Valley, should decide on encryption

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As California and New York debate passing anti-encryption bills for smartphones, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has come out saying that it’s up to Congress to decide whether or not allowing encryption is the right path to choose.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Stephenson said the decision lies with the people and Congress, and even dropped Apple CEO Tim Cook’s name.

“I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do,” he said in the interview. “I understand Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make. I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies.”

Cook has been outspoken in his criticism of anti-encryption policies, stating that allowing back doors into smartphones so that law enforcement can decrypt and access data in them is a violation of consumer privacy. During a recent 60 Minutes tour of Apple’s headquarters, Cook said “if there’s a way to get in, then somebody will find the way in. The reality is that if you put a back door in, that back door’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys.”

Politicians have also been clamoring for back doors into devices, notably presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who recently called for a “Manhattan-like project” to allow law enforcement the ability to break encryption.

Stephenson’s remarks aren’t too much of a surprise, considering that the telecommunications giant has had an “extreme willingness to help” the National Security Agency by providing access to billions of emails and more. Stephenson had a response to that as well.

“It is silliness to say there’s some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T,” he said to the WSJ. But The New York Times report that unveiled the news said otherwise — a document reminded NSA officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, stating “this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”

Last year, several tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft sent a letter to President Obama asking him to protect consumers’ right to privacy, and take note — AT&T did not add its signature.

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