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Viewpoint: What Are Tim Cook’s Priorities?

Tim Cook is fighting the wrong battle at the wrong time.

What’s more important? Keeping a terrorist’s iPhone safe from the people who are trying to keep me safe? Or protecting a business model?

I saw the first 9/11 plane fly over my head as I walked to my office in New York City. Later that day, I heard about another hijacked plane going down only 30 miles from where I grew up in Pennsylvania.

Apple could help keep me safe but is putting its business interests above all else. Apple is neither defending the Constitution nor the right to privacy by refusing to help unlock data on the phone of a known terrorist and murderer.

The FBI wants access to 44 days of iPhone 5c data that haven’t been backed up to iCloud. Those 44 days led up to the Dec. 2 massacre in San Bernardino, Calif.

That’s 44 days of contacts, messages, notes, photos and videos that Syed Rizwan Farook could have stored on his phone. There could be additional clues as to who helped the killer and his wife plot the massacre or assist in it. It could save lives, mine included.

When the FBI has probable cause to seek a wiretap, it goes to a court and gets one, if the judge approves. In this case, it’s not even a matter of probable cause. The phone is owned by a known terrorist and murderer. And the FBI got a court order to unlock his phone.

To his credit, Cook provided the killer’s backed-up iCloud content to the FBI, and the FBI has probably obtained data stored on the servers of social-media companies, the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls stored on the carrier’s servers, SMS texts stored by the carrier, and the like. But let the FBI complete its investigation.

Tim Cook has already lost in the court of public opinion. Not even the liberal mayor of New York City backs him against the FBI’s reasonable request.

Cook’s decision could also affect his company’s profits.

In 2013, Samsung persuaded the International Trade Commission (ITC) to ban certain older cellular-equipped iPads and iPhones operating on the AT&T network because of patent infringement. In August of that year, the Obama administration vetoed the ban. Do you think Obama, or any president, will come to Apple’s aid next time?

And there could be a next time.

In a patent-infringement dispute, haptic-feedback company Immersion is asking the ITC to ban the importation of the Apple iPhone 6, Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Apple iPhone 6s, Apple iPhone 6s Plus, Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition.

Cook needs to find a way out.

If you’d like to know what Cook is thinking, read his letter to customers here.