Senator slams Apple for removing NYT app from Chinese iPhones

NY Times app banned in China

At least one U.S. politician is taking aim at Apple over its decision to remove The New York Times news app from its app store in China.

Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, slammed the company in a statement today for being, in his words, "complicit in Communist censorship of an American newspaper."

"It's a sad day when a great American company becomes complicit in Communist censorship of an American newspaper. Apple could have leveraged its position to push for more openness in China, but it instead sought to protect its market access at the expense of liberty. Apple's protestations that it's merely complying with Chinese law ring hollow when, just last year, it openly challenged a U.S. court order to assist a terrorism investigation and unlock the iPhone of a dead ISIS terrorist. The common theme running through Apple's actions is not principle, but short-term profit. And the ultimate consequence will be a future that is more closed, less prosperous,and much darker."

Apple confirms to CNBC that it did remove both English-language and Chinese-language apps from the iTunes store late last month.

"For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," Apple said in a statement to CNBC.

The company added: "As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer The New York Times app for download in China."

Apple declined to disclose what regulations, exactly, were said to have been violated or which Chinese government authority had issued the request. The company also reiterated that it complies with the laws of the countries in which it conducts business.

Cotton's contention that Apple's defense "ring[s] hollow" refers to the company's decision to challenge a U.S. court order last year to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

On that point, CEO Tim Cook in part resisted creating a back door for the FBI because, so he argued at the time, the same back doors for law enforcement could be exploited by criminals and hostile foreign states.

Cook said he would comply with the ultimate decision of the court. However, the case was dropped after the U.S. government unlocked the phone without Apple's assistance.

This is not the first time Cotton has targeted Cook. During that encryption fight, he charged the executive with omitting "critical facts about data encryption."

Apple declined to respond to Cotton's comments.