Partners Praise Tim Cook's Strong Stance On Apple-FBI Debate At Product Launch Event

CEO Tim Cook kicked off Apple's high-profile product launch event not with the company's hot new offerings (although he eventually got to that) but instead with forceful comments on Apple's ongoing fight with the FBI over its encrypted iPhones.

"We believe strongly we have a responsibility to you to protect your data and your privacy," Cook said. "We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country. This is an issue that affects all of us and we will not shrink from this responsibility,"

Solution providers praised Cook's strong stance on the issue, especially his stating the position at such a major event for the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant, saying that the potential to gain information in this particular case -- which involves whether the government can compel the company to devise a "backdoor" to a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist shooters -- is not worth the security cost.

[Related: RSA Panel: Apple-FBI Battle Is Bigger Than A Tug-Of-War Over Encryption]

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"I'm a strong defender in our country, ... but from what I think the limited information they’ll get out of the phone, it will jeopardize everything else [from a security perspective]," said Pat Grillo, chairman of the board at Branchburg, N.J.-based Atrion Communications Resources. "You open something up and everyone will get into it."

Grillo praised Cook for using the product event platform to talk about the Apple-FBI debate, as altering the phone would affect a major security selling point for the company's devices as well as compromise the security for many Americans, he said.

"I have to strongly agree with [Cook]," Grillo said. "I think he should come out as strong as he wants. … We're out here trying to protect people. That’s part of my job and my company's job. Now you want to make my job harder by making Apple less secure? That’s crazy. I wouldn't do it."

Peter Kujawa, division president of Locknet Managed IT Services, Onalaska, Wis., said he expects the debate will go on for some time, as there is no easy, middle-ground solution.

"It’s a tough issue, because we are citizens and patriots, and we're supportive of law enforcement," Kujawa said. "On the other hand, I understand where Apple is coming from, in that, as soon as you create a backdoor for a limited instance, the temptation will be to request backdoor routinely, and [for] other governments [to] request it."

The statements from Cook come after weeks of escalating debate between Apple and the FBI over an iPhone involved in the terrorist attack late last year. The law enforcement agency is arguing that it needs Apple to help open the encrypted iPhone, which would involve the creation of a new operating system and would be a task that Apple argues creates dangerous access into its customers' devices.

The timing of these most recent comments from Cook is not only important because of the high-profile event, but also because the vendor's lawyers will be heading to federal court Tuesday over whether the company can be compelled to help the FBI open the phone, which is encrypted and cannot be opened without the user's passcode. The case will likely extend for months, and some think the appeals could stretch all the way to the Supreme Court.

Cook said he never expected to pit Apple against the government, but that he has been "humbled" and is "grateful" for the support the vendor has received in recent weeks. Those supporters include many channel partners and security vendors, the latter of which took center stage at the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco to express their support for Apple.

"We built the iPhone for you, our customers, and we know it is a deeply personal device. For many of us, the iPhone is an extension of ourselves," Cook said. "We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and over our privacy. I have been humbled and deeply grateful for the outpouring of support that we have received from Americans across the country from all walks of life."

Apple also used the event to roll out a new, smaller phone called the iPhone SE as well as a recycling robot; new open source health-care software called CareKit; Apple TV updates; a cheaper Apple Watch (priced at $299 instead of $349); and the latest version of its operating system, iOS 9.3.