The on-going battle between Apple and the FBI has brought encryption and security to the fore once again. After remaining silent on the subject for some time, President Obama - speaking at SXSW - said that he was opposed to the idea of encryption mechanism that are so strong it prevents governmental access.
"If technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there is 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?" he wondered aloud, his almost rhetorical question playing neatly on two of America's biggest fears. He suggested that security keys should be made available to third parties, saying "you cannot take an absolutist view" when it comes to balancing security and privacy. But Obama has a solution: backdoors.
Obama avoided talking directly about the Apple/FBI case, but it hung heavy in the air nonetheless. So what is his solution to the issue of encryption standing in the way of government being able to access whatever it wants? The out-going president's answer to the problem is far from fleshed out, and far from being a solution that anyone in their right mind would find agreeable. Addressing the SXSW audience, he said:
While Obama says that he backs the notion of strong systems of encryption, he said that for issues that were agreed to be important (by whom he did not make clear) it should be possible for the security key to be made available to "smallest number of people possible". A backdoor by any other name. He said:
Dress it up any way you like, but Obama is suggesting that backdoors should be implemented. He even went on to admit the folly of his suggestion:
Taking a view that goes against just about every tech company out there - most of whom have come out in support of Apple - the president said:
Therein lies the problem. The activities of the NSA have destroyed what little trust people may have had in the government to work with security and privacy has been eroded to the point of being non-existent. The same is true of the tech community in general and tech companies specifically. Seemingly oblivious to this, Obama concluded by saying:
Sorry, Barrack, but you've missed the point. What you are calling for simply cannot coexist alongside strong encryption. By your own admission you don't understand what’s involved, and this speaks volumes.
Tim Cook is right. Whatever the outcome of the Apple/FBI case, it has the potential to set a huge, and potentially dangerous, precedent. Encryption and privacy should always win out.