Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Apple chief, at center of controversy over privacy, forged his moral ideals growing up in rural South

Apple chief executive Tim Cook—an openly gay man, a champion for gay rights, and a native son of the rural South—is at the heart of a controversy, having refused to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Cook's childhood growing up in the 1960s in rural Robertsdale, Ala. (Best Places map) forged his current ideals about right and wrong and the need for privacy, especially from the government, Todd Frankel reports for The Washington Post.

Cook was instilled with a sense of right and wrong at an early age, Frankel writes. "In the early 1970s, he was riding his new 10-speed bicycle at night along a rural road just outside Robertsdale when he spotted a burning cross. He pedaled closer. He saw Klansmen in white hoods and robes. The cross was on the property of a family he knew was black. It was almost more than he could comprehend. Without thinking, he shouted, 'Stop!' The group turned toward the boy. One of them raised his hood. Cook recognized the man as a local deacon at one of the dozen churches in town, but not the one attended by Cook’s family. The man warned the boy to keep moving." Cook said at a speech in 2013, “This image was permanently imprinted in my brain and it would change my life forever."

Tim Cook (Mashable photo)
When he was 16 "Cook won an essay contest sponsored by a rural electric company and, as part of the prize, met Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the segregationist who resisted the federal government’s attempts to integrate the state’s public schools during the ’60s," Frankel writes. Cook said in a speech that shaking Wallace's hand was "a betrayal of my own beliefs . . . It felt wrong. Like I was selling a piece of my soul.” During the same trip, Cook met President Jimmy Carter at the White House. He said the difference between the two men was impossible to miss: “One was right and one was wrong.”

In 2011, when he took over Apple, Cook began advocating "for gay rights and to change laws in states such as Alabama, where employees can be fired for being gay," Frankel writes. "He criticized states with 'religious freedom' laws that seemed to him to sanction some forms of discrimination. Last December, shortly before the fate of a terrorist’s iPhone would explode onto the national scene, he accepted the Ripple of Hope award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. In his speech, Cook talked about learning to 'take a stand for what is right, for what is just.' And when the terrorist’s iPhone case erupted last month, Cook returned to that 'moral sense' he learned back in Robertsdale."

In a letter to customers, Cook "wrote that 'it would be wrong' for Apple to be forced to create a backdoor to its security system," Frankel writes. Cook wrote, “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government” The Justice Department "has accused Apple of focusing on 'a perceived negative impact on its reputation.'" Cook responded in an interview with ABC News by saying, “Some things are hard, and some things are right, and some things are both. This is one of those things.”

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