"All I’m saying is, when Apple is done, this will be less secure than it was," Hayden said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.
US federal law enforcement and Apple have been in a showdown in recent months after the FBI requested Apple to create a defeat mechanism to break the encryption on an iPhone used by one of two individuals responsible for a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California in December.
"I just think it’s a bad idea," Hayden said of the government’s request to Apple. "It is a bad idea because [Director of National Intelligence] Jim Clapper, for the last two or three years, has said the most serious threat to American safety and security is cyber."
Hayden, who led the NSA under former President George W. Bush, argued that the pace of technological progress will make it "harder and harder" for intelligence and law enforcement to obtain content from intercepted communications. He advised those officials to "get over it," explaining that it will still be possible to gather intelligence on communications.
In recent days, the FBI has alleged a third party may be able to break the iPhone encryption, but success is not guaranteed.