Apple

President Obama Wants a Back Door on Your Phone. But Not on His.

Secure communications for me, but not for thee.

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In yesterday's South by Southwest keynote address, President Obama took a firm stand against strong encryption. Standing before an audience of over two thousand technology enthusiasts, Obama explained why the government needs back door access to all personal communication devices.

If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there's no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement? If government can't get in, then everyone's walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. There has to be some concession to get into that information somewhere.

Obama didn't specifically discuss Apple's case with the FBI, though the inference is clear. The president is not content with unlocking the individual phones of suspected criminals. He's asking for specific security protections to be permanently removed from all electronic devices. Because terrorists, child pornographers, and tax dodgers exist, no private citizen should have the right to secure communications.

Photo by Pete Souza, The White House
In the Oval Office, President Obama uses the Telecore IST-2, for secure communication.

Buried inside the President's appeals to fear is a principle that's widely understood by security professionals: A back door for the government is, in practice, indistinguishable from a security flaw that makes communication devices vulnerable for everyone.

As Alex Abdo of the ACLU put it, "If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers' devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world."

The sentiment was echoed by Edward Snowden, who has called Apple's legal battles with the FBI, "the most important tech case in a decade." In a recent interview with Reason TV, Snowden characterized the issue in stark terms. "It's a binary choice: Either all of us have security or none of us have security." 

Watch Snowden's extended comments on Apple vs. the FBI below, starting at the 0:53 minute mark.

In the coming months, Obama's hypothetical concerns may become a lot less speculative. Apple is widely believed to be making an impenetrable iPhone, possibly for sale within the coming year, which could render recent legal wrangling moot. 

Paradoxically, Obama also used his keynote address to encourage citizens to use technology to reclaim American democracy. "We systematically make it harder for our citizens to vote," he said. "It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in democracy."

In theory, voting online is long overdue. But at the very least, a digital election would seem to require the very kind of secure, encrypted communication that the president wants to abolish.

Bonus irony: President Obama still uses a Blackberry because he's not allowed to use the latest technology… for security reasons.

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  1. *crawls up to the podium*

    You know who else wanted a back door?…

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  2. I bet the seals still clapped vigorously.

    Because social signaling is more important than principles to most people.

    1. Yeah, I came to ask if he wasn’t loudly booed off the fucking stage.

      Mr. Obama is something of a technology geek, so his presence at the festival does not come as much of a surprise.

      Oh NYT, never change.

      1. They won’t…dammit.

  3. “I am not allowed, for security reasons, to have an iPhone,” Obama conceded at a youth summit in 2013

    Strange, since I now use a govt issued iPhone that can send/receive encrypted, FOUO email

    1. You need to get one of those servers you keep in a bathroom cabinet.

      1. No can do, that cabinet is full of stockpiled Venezuelan toilet paper

    2. “…but if I had one…I’d get away with it…because, you know, Hillary emails and fuck you.”

    3. Pretty sure only the crack-berries except real encryption.

  4. The sentiment was echoed by Edward Snowden, who has called Apple legal battles with the FBI, “the most important tech case in a decade.”

    Uh, yeah, thanks but I think I’ll take the word of a constitutional scholar over that of a high school dropout.

    1. I would love to see Snowden debate Obama. Or anyone else.

    2. Obama is a constitutional scholar? What the fuck are you smoking?

      1. Its a new drug, called sarcasm. You probably haven’t heard of it.

      2. Obama is a communist constitution scholar.

    3. “Uh, yeah, thanks but I think I’ll take the word of a constitutional scholar over that of a high school dropout.”

      Sarcasm, right?

    4. Obama is not. nor was he a constitutional scholar, he was an adjunct professor on the subject of constitutional law.
      He was a part time professor hired on a contractual basis and never met the qualifications of scholar. A scholar is someone who spends an entire career on a particular subject. Obama only taught constitutional law briefly.

    1. You take the douche, you take the bag, you take them both and then you have, a real douchebag, a real douchebag
      (sung to the theme song from Facts Of Life)

      1. Come and knock on our (back) door, we’ve been waiting for you…

        1. Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum…

          1. We’re movin’ on up…

      2. You take the douche, you take the bag,
        you take them both and there you have
        a douch-e-bag, a douch-e-bag.

        There’s a time you got to go and show
        You’re douchen’ now you know about the facts of bein’ a
        douche.

        When the world never seems
        to be livin’ up to your douchebag dreams
        And suddenly you’re finding out the facts about being a douche
        all about you, you.

        It takes a lot to get ’em right
        When you’re learning to the facts of bein’ a douche. (learning the facts of being a douche)
        Learning the facts of bein’ a douche
        Learning the facts of bein’ a douche.

      3. Oh hell, that song will be running through my head for days.

        Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.

  5. I thought “the single most important task in democracy” was to unilaterally murder drone brown people while golfing.

    1. Don’t simplify things. He’s also killing white Americans that haven’t even been charged with a crime. And their teenage kids too.

      1. And their little dogs too.

  6. Translation: “How can we get a piece of the action, if we can’t see the action?”

  7. Anyone who disagrees with him holds an “absolutist” position, and that’s just wrong! ‘Cause he says so!
    His view isn’t “absolute”, since he only wants most of your data, not all of it. You can keep information on your favorite color of M&Ms;, for instance.

    1. Orwell used to say that whenever someone says they’re a ‘realist,’ they’re just trying to justify the fact that they’re doing something evil by claiming there was no other choice.

      I’m beginning to suspect ‘pragmatist’ means something similar.

      1. I have a friend Who always says “got no choice” so now the term is Charbonnaue, after the friend, been using it for years,
        i mean hey, charbonnaue, you know?

    1. Only with Apple’s private key and the source code. Which basically means your next iOS update will come from the FBI.

      1. According to the NY Post, the FBI just suggested that Apple hand over the complete source code and private key for iOS:

        http://nypost.com/2016/03/11/a…..door-feds/

        1. And of course they want that – then the next time they’re monitoring a suspect, they can just push a “software update” to his phone that looks perfectly legitimate (because they have the private key) but actually has backdoors built into it.

    2. Of course.

      But they want the legal precedent to compel a private company to un-make their own consumer-security system and recognize the govt’s absolute authority to see whatever they want to see.

  8. Ace of Spades has now joined us on the ‘Fuck Trump’ bandwagon!

    “Old headline, the one the Trumpsters like: The Scrum: Video Emerges to Suggest WaPo Reporter Ben Terris Misidentifies Lewandowski in Fields Incident Breitbart

    New headline. The one they apparently don’t like so much, because they don’t admit it exists: The Scrum: Video Shows Lewandowski Reaching in Michelle Fields’s Direction.

    That’s what the article says now. Click on it if you like. You can see the url still says “misidentifies” but the article, now updated with additional video, says that Lewandowski reached for Fields.

    So don’t cite it any longer.

    Oh who am I kidding — you’ll keep citing it forever. Getting on Mr. Trump’s train means shedding our childish preferences for things like “the truth” and “reality.””

    1. Furthermore:

      “A lot of Trump supporters said that if Fields had really been assaulted, she should file charges. This was their idea of calling her bluff.

      Well, now she’s filed charges, and the Jupiter, Florida police are investigating the assault, and they have a fair amount of evidence to start with.

      Now begins the process of all the people saying “Didn’t happen, she’s a nut and a slut” turning to “What does it matter who touched who or where?””

      “These “tough guys” who fling women around have also put Breitbart — the one news outfit firmly behind them — in an impossible position. They can only continue agitating for Trump in these circumstances at the expense of their own credibility — which, in turn, diminishes how effective they can be agitating for Trump.

      Gotta be tough. Gotta toss some women around to show how tough you are. Then, after you do it, you do what “tough guys” do — you like like a little f*cking baby.

      All because some men have a backwards, primitive, shame-culture type conception of “honor” that includes simply lying like a little child instead of doing the honorable thing and apologizing.”

      1. Punching someone is always a shitty thing to do, but holy cow this is not between Trump, his supporters, and all the people offended by them in America. It’s between that lady and the guy who was charged with attacking her. Why does every isolated incident have to turn into the symbolic ideological struggle of our time!!!!!, until the next one the media decides to cover. I couldn’t care less. I also have this weird idea that apologies are personal and don’t belong in grand public declarations, and demanding them from people you’ve only heard about on the news just seems oversensitive and lame. Maybe its just me.

        1. ugh. misogyny.

          (proceeds to start riot)

        2. “It’s between that lady and the guy who was charged with attacking her. Why does every isolated incident have to turn into the symbolic ideological struggle of our time!!!!!”

          In this case because the Trump campaign lied about it and then tried to smear her as a lying attention seeking whore.

          They made this about the campaign by refusing to apologize and smearing the victim. Fuck them.

          1. Your apparent fervor for this issue doesn’t make you any less racist, you know.

          2. Still not sure how not apologizing or saying mean things makes it about the campaign. Isolated people saying mean things, even if it was Trump, does not make the event some conspiracy against lady journalists. Maybe it makes them assholes but I agree with Tundra that its a non-story. It’s now only running on the fumes of outrage over the opinions that occurred after the fact. Good grief.

            1. Public apologies are bullshit anyway. They are strictly PR moves.

      2. Does anyone see anything in these videos?

        1. All I see is a more diverse crowd than there is at a Sanders or Clinton event (not held deliberately in a black church). Other than that, I don’t see shit.

  9. “If government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. There has to be some concession to get into that information somewhere.”

    I am at a loss for words. Why are Americans nodding and smiling along to this? The man just said that everything you do, everything you say – belongs to the government.

    1. “a Swiss bank account in their pocket.”

      *strengthens cryptosystem*

    2. In my fantasy world, Apple’s ultimate response to this whole situation is to implement a bitcoin competitor directly and seamlessly into Apple Pay.

    3. They cheered when he said under his plan energy prices would skyrocket. What did you expect them to do? He regularly tells people he is going to fuck them to death and they cheer.

      When he said it would be like everyone having a swiss bank account the first thing I thought was “Yeah, but I thought you were going to make the case against encryption”.

    4. Why shouldn’t I have a Swiss bank account?

      War on drugs is the only reason they care.

      1. Because it’s their money – you only get to pretend its yours at their whim.

    5. Why? Because as long as they have beer and football, they don’t give a shit.

      And by the time they lose their beer and football it will be too late.

  10. If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement? If government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. There has to be some concession to get into that information somewhere.

    1: you apprehend them by doing police work, not by forcing them to incriminate themselves.
    2: show us what plots you’ve been unable to foil because you suspected someone but couldn’t get their data.
    3: what tax enforcement requires you to access private data on a cellphone?
    4: so you want only rich people to have access to the security offered by a numbered Swiss bank account? Didn’t you stop evasion of taxes Swiss banks offered with FATCA?
    5: Concession is voluntary. You’re trying to impose this on us against our will.

    1. I hate Obama more than I’ve ever hated a person I’d never met. He has set our country back a half century in more ways than I can count.

      I only hope he eventually takes his rightful place in the ash heap of history.

      1. I only hope he eventually takes his rightful place in the ash heap of history.

        Yeah, and he’ll turn in his Nobel Peace Prize too.

      2. I only hope he eventually takes his rightful place in the ash heap of history.

        Unfortunately, historians and school indoctrinations will place him well above any flameg. My list of the 5 worst Presidents of the past century:

        Wilson
        FDR
        LBJ
        Bush II
        Obama

        Only one of those will be covered in ash.

        1. Good list but you forgot Hamilton. The problem with the people on your list is that none of them have their Aaron Burrs.

          1. Past century.

          2. “…but you forgot Hamilton.”
            That’s a sucker bar bet. You turn a ten dollar bill face down and bet somebody the face value that they can’t name the president on the bill…. Hamilton was never president.

        2. Truman really belong in there. I never put him up there, but after reading about what a fucking scumbag authoritarian he was, fuck him in the ear.

        3. I don’t hate bush II. He seemed on the right track with social security etc and then 9/11.

          I blame bush I for setting the stage for 9/11 with his mishandling of Saddam both before and after the gulf war. So replace 43 with 41 and I agree with your list.

        4. When he’s gone, Obama won’t be remembered as anything other than Black President. There’ll be some nice things said about how elegant he was and plenty of whispers about how his administration compounded the errors of 2008 to give us the Great Crash 2.0, but ultimately he was not a wartime president, he didn’t oversee anything resembling good times economically, and he didn’t preside over anything other than the usual flood of mid-level catastrophes that is US foreign policy.

          Since history won’t be up to the task, it’s up to us to teach our grandkids how we endured eight years of tedious lectures by the walking, talking embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

          1. Obama’s a wartime president–there’s Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the new war in Syria (we have covert forces over there now–enough that they had to ask the Russians not to accidentally bomb them).

            And of course he elevated drone-killing to a new art of war.

  11. re: “Standing before an audience of over two thousand technology enthusiasts, Obama explained why the government needs back door access to all personal communication devices.”

    So, Obama was boo’d off the stage, right? Right?

    1. No one wants to be held under a spray of Secret Service bullets.

  12. re: “It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in democracy.”

    Making voting an even more casual activity than it is already doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

    1. Well, we are talking about the same assclown who claimed that in some unspecified neighborhoods of the US, it’s easier to buy a gun than a book.

      1. Order of ease in progland: gun – pizza – vote – book

        1. forgot to put fresh fruit at the very end. Our country is rife with food deserts donchaknow?

          gun-pizza-vote-book-fresh fruit

          1. You guys left a couple important ones off. Based on what I hear from lefty pundits and pols it’s:

            Gun-pizza-vote-book-fresh fruit-birth control-abortion

  13. In reality, serious criminals will be completely able and willing to use encryption without back doors. You can make Apple do shit with government force, but you can’t make criminals only use Apple.

    They’re going after everyday, normal people, and pretending it’s all about terrorists and pedophiles. Sorry, but once you bring up taxation, all pretense that the issue is about “extreme cases” and “safety” goes out the window.

    They just can’t have an individual going their own way, when we all need to be in this together, whether they want to, or not. Encryption empowers individuals, so of course, it needs to be regulated and open to government, for the pure social justice of it all.

    Double. Douche. Bag.

    1. They’re going after everyday, normal people, and pretending it’s all about terrorists and pedophiles.

      Exactly.

      the charade is so paper-thin. the appeal amounts to “BUT ITS EASIER FOR US IF YOU JUST SUBMIT”

      How were crimes investigated and prosecuted *before* people carried around a portable digital record of everything in their lives? its hard to imagine how super-difficult those old-school methods must be, given the millions of people we somehow manage to put in jail regardless.

    2. You can make Apple do shit with government force, but you can’t make criminals only use Apple.

      Why would it stop with Apple? No means of communication will be secure after this.

      1. Not really.

        Let’s say you’re the government, and you ban all major manufacturers from implementing any encryption, including network traffic and email.

        And you go snooping around in people’s email, and you find an email that looks like this:

        From: Brian
        To: Rhywun
        Subject: 1qb33489ab 1123498asav;ad/w q;eq-9rep qw;lasdkjasdk ;asdf;lkajsdf kas;dfka
        Contents:
        as;ldkfj as;dlfqqwe oraibzxasd;flqpe98uqp sdoiajds;kjzdf;vidfjgpas odifjqw9 eqijdfapjdf
        wdpofqiwej pq9ruepioa fsdpoizcj xvzlxkv;zx fkasdjfpqwiefpa9wdufp asdufpa sdufpaisd
        q;oweifuapd9 fuapd98uadp f98guadf89uadf-b89ua df-asd8fjasdiovdj pvoiajdpvoaids
        apsodibasdp9 g8aueb98aeud89a usdf98F_(Sd8vau-df9vuas dg98audg8asdg-u9asd
        a;sodigjaspd9g8aud sv98audv98 asdv0a8yg-a89gy-as8guasg8 9asy0g8y as-eg8aeg

        and then you realize the sender and the receiver are using a completely hardware-software independent encryption scheme for communication, and, since it’s a layer above the hardware and software, none of the lack of encryption on then hardware and software means that the message is, in fact, readable.

        Go spin up whatever tools you have to try and decrypt encrypted messages, government.

        They’re going after normal people, who wouldn’t go through the trouble in their daily lives.

        They’re not ever going to make all communication readable to the government.

        1. Don’t forget e-mail that looks like: “It’s raining now, but the sun will be shining in a few days.” or “The neighbor’s dog just had puppies.”

          1. I’m afraid it won’t be long until some of us are sending emails that say The chair is against the wall. John has a long mustache.

            1. I really ought to watch that finally.

              1. How about the orignal version?

            2. Verwundet meinen Herz mit eintoeniger Mattigkeit

              1. +1 Gummipuppe.

                (BTW do NOT GIS that word)

          2. +1 Cockney rhyming slang.

        2. Subject: 1qb33489ab 1123498asav;ad/w q;eq-9rep qw;lasdkjasdk ;asdf;lkajsdf kas;dfka

          “Dear Citizen: your email looks suspicious. Please check yourself into Rikers or give us the key. Thank you and have a nice day.”

  14. “Apple is widely believed to be making an impenetrable iPhone, possibly for sale within the coming year, which could render recent legal wrangling moot.”

    Unless the government simply makes that encryption illegal and possession of it a federal crime. Then what?

    1. Requires an act of Congress. I won’t say “never happen” but it would be extremely difficult in the current environment. Anyone proposing it would be slitting his own throat.

      1. Changing laws on the fly after they’ve been passed requires an act of congress, until Obama decided it didn’t.

  15. Screw Obama. Worthless sack of dog SH#@

    http://www.Anon-Net.tk

    1. Right on, ‘Bot.

  16. The pedo argument is particularly shitty to me. What, you’re pro-encryption? You also must be pro child predator. I just don’t get why so many people can’t grasp they’re being manipulated in the most cynical way by that kind of argument.

    1. It’s for the children.

      1. The battle cry of tyrants everywhere.

  17. If Trump weren’t getting all the headlines, this story would get some traction, albeit limited. Now, the media can ignore this story and forget that Obama eve did anything bad.

    1. Just like how all the war coverage ended the day after he put his crown on.

  18. If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot?

    Use your fucking imagination. Doesn’t all innovation come from government or did they not build that?

    How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement?

    Now you’re just fucking with us.

    1. “How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement?”

      That’s actually the point where he loses support from the people who actually agree with him. There are a ton of people (I’m not one) who are completely on his side when it comes to forcing backdoors** to protect from terrorists and child pornographers. But, that’s never enough and he confirms that they will also use it for petty bullshit. That’s where he loses the people who would support him otherwise.

      ** Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh

  19. Is that a Swiss bank account in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

  20. I’m glad you picked up on the IRS angle.

    Obama went to “terrorists and child porn” first, but his “real-world” example was being able to track every financial transaction of every american so that the government could be sure they got their vig.

    It sounded like a major revelation to me; the notion that if we were to allow everyone to have strong encryption then we would no longer be able to track all of their financial transactions. Let that sink in for a second. He’s saying that if we don’t have backdoors into encryption, something will change with respect to the knowledge the feds have about your banking habits.

    Meaning that right now they do have ways of monitoring every financial transaction that will be compromised by strong encryption.

  21. So before the days of smart phones terrorists and pedophiles and tax evaders were completely unstoppable, right? It makes you wonder why they started using them.

    Isn’t an encrypted phone is largely the same from an investigative and enforcement standpoint as no phone at all?

    Will not having a smart phone become illegal?

  22. If only J Edgar Hoover were alive today. I’d love to see what he would do as head of the FBI with the power to access any public official or private businessman’s Google search history

    1. He’s rolling in his grave, pissed off that he’s dead.

  23. You’re trying like hell to put your name on the list of worst US Presidents. Tell ya what fucknut, you show me your secrets and I’ll show you mine. After all, I have lied to the American people far less than you have. I strongly suspect between the two of us you’re the only one hiding crimes.

    1. I have no use for the guy’s party. But let’s admit that he inherited the Bush Asset-forfeiture Crash and depression, and disproved the hypothesis that everyone hates black people, and most important, saved us from two teams of Republican whack jobs. Try to imagine what the Palin-McCain team would have made of that depression, or the other fanatic…

  24. most shocking thing about this aeticle is that executive branch thinks that a BES server is secure

  25. Fuck you Obama – I will fucking cheer when you leave office fuck head.

  26. Has the FBI figured out rot13 yet? Because that’s what I use.

  27. “If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement?”

    show me the constitutional protection that guarantees the government the right to catch the bad guy.

  28. Why not ask the prez why voting machines don’t issue QR codes so each voter can check that his or her vote was counted as cast?

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  30. “We systematically make it harder for our citizens to vote,” he said. “It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in democracy.”

    Voting isn’t that goddamn hard. And if it really is so fucking important, then you’ll willingly make the extra effort.

    It ought to be harder. You should have to show some kind of commitment before your vote is counted.

    1. these voting stories are going to simply get more elaborate as time goes on, to the point where they rival the stories parents tell their kids to remind them of how much harder things were in their day.

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