Strong encryption, weak encryption, plus Obama on finding ‘balance’

Asked about his thoughts on Apple vs. FBI, President Obama said Friday at SXSW that “you cannot take an absolutist view” on the debate about technological locks that are hard for the government — or anyone — to break.

And tech companies appear to be ramping up efforts to create such locks. Google, Facebook and WhatsApp are increasing encryption of their users’ data, the Guardian reports. What’s more, WhatsApp already is involved in what could be the next big fight between tech and the government, according to the New York Times, which says the end-to-ed encryption on the messaging app owned by Facebook is holding back an investigation in a case in which a judge has ordered a wiretap.

More from the president at South by Southwest, the annual tech and music festival in Austin: “If your argument is strong encryption, no matter what, and we can and should, in fact, create black boxes, then that I think does not strike the kind of balance that we have lived with for 200, 300 years. And it’s fetishizing our phones above every other value. And that can’t be the right answer.”

The president called on the tech community to “help us solve” the problem — and find a balance between privacy and security and law enforcement. But some say he doesn’t get it.

“There’s just no way to create a special key for government that couldn’t also be taken advantage of by the Russians, the Chinese, or others who want access to the sensitive information we all carry in our pockets everyday,” U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told USA Today, saying the president’s comments were “tone deaf.”

Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst for Forrester Research who focuses on privacy, told SiliconBeat in an email Monday that “the seemingly rational case made by the president simply doesn’t square with reality.”

The reasons she cites are in line with some of Apple’s arguments as it refuses to comply with a court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters: It could set a precedent. Also, Khatibloo says: “Hackers are smart, and once the ‘backdoor’ exists, it will just be a matter of time before it’s out in the wild. Perhaps this could be circumvented by putting the device in a cleanroom with one Apple employee and one FBI employee and then destroying the code afterwards, but then should Apple have to rewrite and the code for every new case?”

We’ll let John Oliver on “Last Week with Tonight with John Oliver” (NSFW video) have the last word, for now: “Strong encryption has its costs, from protecting terrorists to drug dealers to child pornographers,” the comedian said on his HBO show. “But I happen to feel that the risks of weakening encryption even a little bit, even just for the government, are potentially much worse.”


Photo: President Barack Obama in 2013. (AP/Susan Walsh)


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  • Another Cramer

    Before the governmentS demand Apple create a magic key only it can use, they should demand help fixing everything political insiders have destroyed thus far, like jobs, healthcare and retirement savings.

    After all, Apple can do ANYTHING, even the impossible!

  • fstein

    Three myths:
    We have privacy. Unless you go great lengths in your on-line social and shopping uses, bad guys and law enforcement WILL find out a lot about you if they want to.
    Hackable iPhones will help catch terrorists. With 800 third party encryption Apps, only impulsive or careless bad guys will leave useful files on their phones.
    It’s about one phone: Precedent is set by using a 277 old law to circumvent a 21 year old law, CALEA, which ensures our devices aren’t hackable. The precedent, once set, can apply everywhere in the world and to all devices, including cars which are already hackable. Worse, the precedent does not help law enforcement against third party encryption from other countries but used here in the US.

    • Jessica Fansler

      When I saw the draft of 5845 dollars,,,,yw I accept that my friend’s brother was like really generating cash in his free time with his PC. . His aunt’s neighbor has done this for only 11 months and by now repaid the loan on their home and bought a new Car .

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    • Anon

      Yes, we should also give our local sheriffs a copy of any key to our home, car, or safe, so that we can be safe from terrorists!