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Apple CEO Tim Cook offered a robust defense Friday of privacy protections for its customers, including the global company's refusal to help U.S. authorities hack into the iPhone of a suspect in a San Bernardino mass shooting.
"We throw all of ourselves into this and are very much standing on principle in this," Cook said before an enthusiastic Salt Lake City audience, drawing cheers.
"We believe the only way to protect both your privacy and safety from a cyberattack is to encrypt," he told about 1,400 industry executives, tech workers and Apple fans.
After threatening the worldwide technology firm with legal action, the U.S. Justice Department abandoned its demands when investigators apparently discovered another way to access data on Syed Rizwan Farook's phone.
But the clash, Cook said, has left lingering and difficult questions.
The 55-year-old CEO turned aside calls for adding a "back door" to bypass its encryption methods, saying doing so could leave all technology users vulnerable to attack.
"What we were being asked to do," Cook said, "is create something that, in our view, should never be created."
He, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and others spoke at the yearly meeting of the Utah Technology Council (UTC), a trade and advocacy group representing more than 5,000 technology and life-sciences companies across the state.
The event at Grand America Hotel, among the largest annual gatherings of the state's tech industry, also celebrated UTC's 25th anniversary. It drew a mix of dark-suited and evening-gowned attendees, ardent Apple supporters, and millennial coders toting smartphones and Rubiks cubes.
Also on Friday, UTC inducted into its Hall of Fame private-equity-fund manager Fraser Bullock, MaritzCX President and CEO Carine Clark, and UTC founder Peter Genereaux.
"It's amazing to see how technology has changed our state in such a short period of time," said Hatch, 82, who reportedly was instrumental in bringing Cook to the Beehive State.
Cook, too, gave high praise to the state's technology sector, saying its creativity, energy and entrepreneurial drive were signs of "great things happening here."
"There's no place in the world I'd rather be," Cook said, noting that Utah is home to about 50,000 registered developers for the company's iOS platform.
Greeted like a rock star by the packed ballroom, Cook also talked up the promise of the emerging field of augmented reality, underscored digital photo technology's importance to personal memories and described lasting impacts on Apple from its legendary founder Steve Jobs.
The CEO spoke fondly of keeping the former chairman's office intact at the company's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters with Jobs' personal knickknacks still in place long after his death from pancreatic cancer in 2011, at age 56.
"His spirit will always be the DNA of the company," Cook said of his colleague and friend. Jobs' vision, he said, was to make the best products that enrich people's lives.
"Lots of things will change with Apple," Cook said, "but that will never change."
Calling encryption "one of the biggest issues we face," the CEO noted that most iPhone users have more personal data on their phones than in their homes. "We feel we have a responsibility," he said, "to protect our customers."
And in spite of recent high-profile data breaches against prominent private companies and the U.S. government, Cook said current methods for encoding private data are sophisticated enough to remain uncracked in the near future.
"In the meantime," he said, "you can bet we're working on finding new ways of making people safer."
Encryption, the CEO said, "is inherently great. And we would not be a safe society without it."