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BlackBerry CEO chides Apple over 'civil responsibility'

Technically Incorrect: John Chen still finds fault with Apple's refusal to unlock a terrorist's iPhone, arguing that companies must pitch in "if the world is in danger."

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Apple's Tim Cook: enemy of society?

James Martin/CNET

In the heat of intense competition, rivals can say the harshest things about each other.

When you're BlackBerry, however, it's quaint how the company still seems fond of attacking Apple.

CEO John Chen has referred to iPhone users in the past as "wall huggers." Now he's ventured to attack Cupertino for, in his opinion, acting against society's greater good.

As the Inquirer reports, Chen was speaking at the BlackBerry Security Summit in New York this week and wandered inevitably onto the subject of encryption.

"One of our competitors, we call it 'the other fruit company,' has an attitude that it doesn't matter how much it might hurt society, they're not going to help," he said.

He was specifically referencing Apple's refusal to hack the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorists. (The FBI ended up getting it unlocked anyway, with outside help.) At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook called the FBI's request "chilling," a threat to the security and privacy of all iPhones everywhere.

For Chen, what's chilling is Apple's attitude. "We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good," he said during the Apple-FBI stand-off.

Whatever Apple's level of concern about its reputation, Cook has argued that privacy is an issue not merely of security, but of morality.

Chen did acknowledge that there ought to be clear guidelines, but he still had no use for Apple's refusenik attitude. "I found that disturbing as a citizen," he said at this week's summit. "I think BlackBerry, like any company, should have a basic civil responsibility. If the world is in danger, we should be able to help out."

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of course, contemporary politics shows us that declarations of danger can be very effective in gaining, maintaining and tightening control.

Asking tech companies for absolute cooperation reflects every government's suspicion that Silicon Valley entities hold far more information about everyone than governments do.

Naturally, governments are envious.

Still, when President Trump comes to power, we know that he will force Apple to do what the government wants.

We are, indeed, living in dangerous times.