Obama: Encryption Is Too Good for You

Privacy for me but not for thee. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

I hope the president’s ardent supporters in Silicon Valley and among America’s tech-savvy youth are paying attention to this story from SXSW:

Speaking to an audience of about 2,100 technology executives and enthusiasts at the South by Southwest festival here, Mr. Obama delivered his most extensive comments on an issue that has split the technology community and pitted law enforcement against other national security agencies. Mr. Obama declined to comment specifically on the efforts by the F.B.I. to require Apple’s help in gaining data from an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the December attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

But the president warned that America had already accepted that law enforcement can “rifle through your underwear” in searches for those suspected of preying on children, and he said there was no reason that a person’s digital information should be treated differently.

“If, technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system, where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there is no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer?” Mr. Obama said. “How do we disrupt a terrorist plot?”

If the government has no way into a smartphone, he added, “then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in your pocket.”


He says that like it’s a bad thing.

Left unsaid is that outlaws will find other means of encrypting what they want to keep hidden, while your data can be exposed for all the world to see.

UPDATE: I need to add one last thing.

Technology has the power to take things which only the rich used to be able to get, and make them available to almost anyone. Obama bemoans that encryption is like “everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in your pocket.” Well, the rich will always enjoy the safety and security of Swiss bank accounts, but disc-level encryption — the very thing Obama wants to take away — makes that safety and security available to anyone willing to plunk down the money for a modern smartphone.

See, Obama isn’t wrong with the Swiss bank account analogy. He just doesn’t think you, the little people, should have what the rich have always enjoyed.


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