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President Obama comments on the Apple-FBI encryption case

The president offered a cautionary note at South by Southwest Interactive, where he was attending a talk on "civic engagement"
March 12, 2016

Apple’s stand-off against the FBI’s request for an iOS backdoor to be created has now received comment from none other than the U.S. President himself, Barack Obama. The president offered a cautionary note at South by Southwest Interactive, where he attended a talk yesterday.

The president speaks

The president speaks

The president speaks

The South by Southwest talk attended by President Obama was on “civic engagement in the 21st century,” but soon, Obama was asked about Apple's controversial stand-off in the San Bernardino case. Apple has received a request from the FBI and the Department of Justice to unlock a suspect's phone in the San Bernardino shooting case, and so far, Apple has refused. CEO Tim Cook posted an open letter online, noting that the request calls for “public discussion,” and for now Cupertino is waiting for Congress to decide on whether Apple should be forced to unlock the iPhone.

Tim Cook even gave a TV interview in which he defended Apple's position

President Obama (via 9to5mac), however, has now warned against technology companies taking an “absolutist view” on encryption, and he's encouraging Apple not to wait for Congress to pass a new law before creating the iOS backdoor.

The question we now have to ask is, 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, what mechanisms to we have available to do simple things like tax enforcement… if government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in there pocket… there has to be some concession to the need to be able to get into that information somehow… folks on the encryption side will argue that any key whatsoever… could end up being used on every device… We’re going to have to make some decisions about how do we can balance these respective risks…

- President Obama

For now, Apple isn't budging, and I'd be surprised if Cupertino does change its mind before waiting for Congress to intervene. There is a federal court hearing on March 22 (the day after Apple's spring event), and as such we're sure to learn more about where the case is heading later this month. As always, we'll keep you updated with further information as we receive it.

The Apple-FBI case is discussed at 01:15.