At SXSW 2016, during his keynote, President Obama made very clear his position on the ongoing battle between Apple and the Department of Justice and the fight to get a terrorist’s iPhone unlocked.
Cupertino and the government agency are in a fierce legal war over the encrypted iPhone. The government is demanding that Apple create backdoor access to the terrorist’s phone in the name of national safety.
Apple is resisting the demand. Apple states the government’s demands have “important and dangerous implications,” in a statement on its website.
The President commented on the issue during the keynote, but first noted he could not comment on the specifics.
“If there is probable cause to think that someone has abducted a child, or if you are engaging in any terrorist plot, or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement [can come] to your doorstep and say, ‘We have a warrant to search your home” […] to see if there is any evidence of wrongdoing,” said President Obama.
“And we agree to it because we recognize that just like all of our other rights, freedom of speech…there are going to be some constraints that we impose to make sure we are safe, secure, and remain a civilized society.
Now technology is evolving so rapidly and questions are being asked. And I am of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure the government cannot [access everyone’s iPhones/smartphones].”
The President also spoke about the perception that he has the ability to conduct surveillance on all Americans after Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosure.
He said he did not have that capability and quipped that sometimes he has trouble just getting an Internet connection.
He also commented on Snowden. “The Snowden issue actually overstated the dangers to you. The fact of the matter is our intelligence agencies are pretty scrupulous about U.S persons, people on U.S. soil. But those disclosures did identify where there were excesses; overseas with respect to people who are not in this country.”
An outcome of Snowden’s revelations was that political figures and people in other countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a U.S. ally, were under surveillance. The President said that reforms have been made since the revelation.
“We don’t want government to be looking into everybody phones wily-nily without any kind of oversight or probable cause,” said the President.
He said that “fetishizing our phone above every other value . . . can’t be the right answer.”
The President said the challenge was balancing privacy with keeping Americans safe.
“I suspect 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 secure as possible and is accessible by the smallest number of people possible.”