President Obama: 'You Cannot Take an Absolutist View' on Encryption Issue

United States President Barack Obama today spoke with Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith at South by Southwest (SXSW), where he indirectly addressed Apple's dispute with the FBI. While Obama said he could not comment specifically on the ongoing encryption battle between the two, he spoke on larger issues of privacy and security.

Obama cautioned against taking an "absolutist" view on encryption and said American citizens already make concessions to balance privacy with security in other aspects of their lives. He used warrants to search homes and possessions, something the public agrees is necessary, as a parallel to accessing data on a smartphone.

He also pointed towards airport security as an example of a compromise made between security and privacy. "It's not fun going through security," he said, "but we recognize it as important." He went on to say that the notion that data can be "walled off" from those "other tradeoffs we make" is incorrect.

The question we have to ask is if technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong there's no key, there's no door, at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to even do simple things like tax enforcement if in fact you cant crack that at all. If the government can't get in, everyone is walking around with a swiss bank account in their pocket.

There has to be some concession to the need to get that information somehow. Folks who are on the encryption side will argue that any key whatsoever, even if it starts off directed at one device, could end up being used on every device. That's just the nature of these systems. That is a technical question. I am not a software engineer. It is technically true, but it can be overstated.

Obama said that while he wants to make sure the government cannot "willy-nilly" get into everyone's iPhones without oversight and probable cause, there are "constraints we impose" to make sure we live in a safe and civilized society. He advocated for finding a balance between encryption and privacy and the government's need to investigate crimes.

My conclusion so far is that you cannot take an absolutist view on this. So if your argument is strong encryption no matter what, and we can and should, in fact, create black boxes, that I think does not strike the kind of balance that we have lived with for 200, 300 years and it is fetishizing our phones above every other value. That can't be the right answer.

I suspect that the answer is going to come down to how do we create a system where the encryption is as strong as possible, the key is as secure as possible, is accessible by the smallest number of people possible for a subset of issues that we agree are important.

Obama went on to call on software engineers and technology companies to help the government solve the problem, and he said a thorough, well-formed encryption solution should be established before it's desperately needed. He cautioned against the tech community disengaging or taking a position that "is not sustainable for the general public as a whole over time," as it could lead to a stalemate that will ultimately lead to "sloppy" legislation should the political climate change after something "really bad happens." Apple, too, has urged for the issue to be solved in Congress instead of the courts.

The president's comments come as Apple is facing off against the U.S. government in a fierce public battle over the order that would require Apple to help the FBI break into the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook by creating new software to circumvent passcode restrictions on the device. Apple believes complying with the demand would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the overall weakening of encryption on smartphones and other electronic devices.

The Department of Justice has dismissed Apple's concerns, calling its fears overblown and insisting the request will not result in a universal "master key." Just yesterday, a government filing accused Apple of "deliberately" raising technological barriers preventing law enforcement from accessing data on Apple devices, something Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell went on to call an "unsupported, unsubstantiated effort to vilify Apple."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
59 months ago
**** Obama.

Treasonous scumbag.

Obama is technologically inept. I'd expect nothing less from a community organizer who still uses a Blackberry and merrily conducts extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens and routinely flies Pentagon drones all over the United States ('http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/03/09/pentagon-admits-has-deployed-military-spy-drones-over-us/81474702/').

Obama is a totalitarian at heart. Worst president...ever.
Score: 128 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
59 months ago

"It's not fun going through [airport] security," [Obama] said, "but we recognize it as important."

No, no we don't. We recognize it as ******** security theater.
Score: 91 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
59 months ago
'If the government can't get in, then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account'

That is truly irresponsible. Why can't I have a secure device that protects my information and not be accessible to anyone else on the planet? If we have to accept that the government need access to absolutely everything upon request then we have no privacy whatsoever. You either have privacy or you don't.

1984 is fast approaching.
Score: 87 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
59 months ago
Obama is a moron
Score: 77 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
59 months ago
There is no such thing as a secure key, Obama.
Score: 73 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
59 months ago
No way to not take an absolute view. It's mathematics.
Score: 71 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of 3rd party widgets at launch, iOS users around the...

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

Hands-On With the New Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

Friday September 18, 2020 1:19 pm PDT by
Today's the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we'd give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch. Apple Watch Series 6 & Apple Watch SE Hands-On! When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like...

iOS 14 Picture in Picture No Longer Working With YouTube's Mobile Website in Safari [Without Premium]

Friday September 18, 2020 12:21 pm PDT by
Apple in iOS 14 added Picture in Picture to the iPhone, a feature designed to let you watch a video in a small screen on your device while you continue to do other things on the phone. When Picture in Picture was working with YouTube The YouTube app doesn't support Picture in Picture, but up until yesterday there was a functional workaround that allowed videos from YouTube.com to be watched...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...

Here's How You Can Download iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Around the World [It's Out]

Wednesday September 16, 2020 2:36 am PDT by
Apple's official public release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 dropped on Wednesday, September 16, just a day after the company released the Golden Master to third-party developers. Also set to be made available to the general public for the first time are watchOS 7 and tvOS 14. Getting Started With iOS 14 Video Click image to watch iOS 14 Getting Started While that's left a lot of developers...

AirPods Studio Rumored to Come With U1 Chip, Ultra-Wideband Said to Be Vital to Future Apple Ecosystem

Sunday September 20, 2020 6:17 am PDT by
Proven leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared a range of information about the ultra-wideband U1 chip in Apple's upcoming AirTags item trackers and AirPods Studio headphones. The first of a series of tweets shared today simply stated that AirPods Studio will contain an ultra-wideband U1 chip. It seems likely that the U1 chip would be used in AirPods Studio to track the location of...

Kuo: Apple to Accelerate Adoption of Mini-LED Displays in iPad and Mac Notebook Lineups

Sunday September 20, 2020 10:00 pm PDT by
Increased competition among Apple's suppliers for mini-LED display chips will accelerate the company's adoption of the advanced technology in its iPad and MacBook lineups, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. Kuo says that while Epistar had been predicted to be the exclusive supplier of mini-LED chips for Apple products in 2021, Sanan Optoelectronics...

Top Stories: Apple Event Recap, Apple Watch Series 6, Redesigned iPad Air, and More

Saturday September 19, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
This week's news was obviously dominated by Apple's media event and the launch of iOS 14, but there was a lot to digest, so check out our summary below for the high-level view of the past week. With the exception of the massively redesigned iPad Air, all of the new hardware introduced this week is starting to appear on store shelves and on customers' doorsteps, while all of the new software...

Apple Updates AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro Firmware to Version 3A283

Monday September 14, 2020 11:24 am PDT by
Apple today released new 3A283 firmware updates for the second-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The second-generation AirPods are being updated from the 2D15 firmware they were previously running, while the AirPods Pros are being updated from the 2D27 firmware they had installed previously. Apple does not provide details on what's included in refreshed firmware so we don't know what's ...