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.

Popular Stories

iPhone SE 4 Vertical Camera Feature

iPhone SE 4 Rumored to Use Same Rear Chassis as iPhone 16

Friday July 19, 2024 7:16 am PDT by
Apple will adopt the same rear chassis manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 that it is using for the upcoming standard iPhone 16, claims a new rumor coming out of China. According to the Weibo-based leaker "Fixed Focus Digital," the backplate manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 is "exactly the same" as the standard model in Apple's upcoming iPhone 16 lineup, which is expected to...
iPhone 16 Pro Sizes Feature

iPhone 16 Series Is Just Two Months Away: Everything We Know

Monday July 15, 2024 4:44 am PDT by
Apple typically releases its new iPhone series around mid-September, which means we are about two months out from the launch of the iPhone 16. Like the iPhone 15 series, this year's lineup is expected to stick with four models – iPhone 16, iPhone 16 Plus, iPhone 16 Pro, and iPhone 16 Pro Max – although there are plenty of design differences and new features to take into account. To bring ...
iphone 14 lineup

Cellebrite Unable to Unlock iPhones on iOS 17.4 or Later, Leak Reveals

Thursday July 18, 2024 4:18 am PDT by
Israel-based mobile forensics company Cellebrite is unable to unlock iPhones running iOS 17.4 or later, according to leaked documents verified by 404 Media. The documents provide a rare glimpse into the capabilities of the company's mobile forensics tools and highlight the ongoing security improvements in Apple's latest devices. The leaked "Cellebrite iOS Support Matrix" obtained by 404 Media...
tinypod apple watch

TinyPod Turns Your Apple Watch Into an iPod

Wednesday July 17, 2024 3:18 pm PDT by
If you have an old Apple Watch and you're not sure what to do with it, a new product called TinyPod might be the answer. Priced at $79, the TinyPod is a silicone case with a built-in scroll wheel that houses the Apple Watch chassis. When an Apple Watch is placed inside the TinyPod, the click wheel on the case is able to be used to scroll through the Apple Watch interface. The feature works...
bsod

Crowdstrike Says Global IT Outage Impacting Windows PCs, But Mac and Linux Hosts Not Affected

Friday July 19, 2024 3:12 am PDT by
A widespread system failure is currently affecting numerous Windows devices globally, causing critical boot failures across various industries, including banks, rail networks, airlines, retailers, broadcasters, healthcare, and many more sectors. The issue, manifesting as a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), is preventing computers from starting up properly and forcing them into continuous recovery...
New MacBook Pros Launching Tomorrow With These 4 New Features 2

M5 MacBook Models to Use New Compact Camera Module in 2025

Wednesday July 17, 2024 2:58 am PDT by
Apple in 2025 will take on a new compact camera module (CCM) supplier for future MacBook models powered by its next-generation M5 chip, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Writing in his latest investor note on unny-opticals-2025-business-momentum-to-benefit-509819818c2a">Medium, Kuo said Apple will turn to Sunny Optical for the CCM in its M5 MacBooks. The Chinese optical lens company...

Top Rated Comments

aaronvan Avatar
109 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)
chucker23n1 Avatar
109 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)
fitshaced Avatar
109 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)
jkcerda Avatar
109 months ago
Obama is a moron
Score: 77 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cougarcat Avatar
109 months ago
There is no such thing as a secure key, Obama.
Score: 73 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Eraserhead Avatar
109 months ago
No way to not take an absolute view. It's mathematics.
Score: 71 Votes (Like | Disagree)