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Obama puts down his encrypted phone long enough to tell us: Knock it off with the encryption

Back doors, skeleton keys, just make it happen, nerds

SXSW Amid the row between Apple and the FBI over the unlocking of a mass murderer's iPhone, President Barack Obama has told the tech world to suck it up and do what the Feds want.

Speaking today at hipster-circle-jerk SXSW in Austin, Texas, the United States' Commander in Chief said phones and computers cannot be unbreakable "black boxes," and that an "absolutist" view on encryption won't fly with the laws and courts of the land.

Of course, the President and his staff, his military, his government agencies and his intelligence services all rely on tough and non-compromised encryption – but that's not for you. You're too busy "fetishizing" your smartphone, the leader of the free world said.

Obama, nearing the end of his presidency and appearing relaxed sans necktie, decided to drop his earlier touchy-feely approach of finding a compromise between prosecutors and technology giants, and instead put his foot down.

Here are the highlights of his SXSW chat:

  • People put up with body searches and scanners by the TSA at airports, which obviously thwarts terrorism, so why can't people put up with a little less security in their phones?
  • Actual quote: "Everybody’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. So there has to be some concession for the need to get into that information."
  • "If your argument is strong encryption no matter what, and we can and should create black boxes, that, I think, does not strike the kind of balance we have lived with for 200 or 300 years, and it’s fetishizing our phones above every other value."
  • "If there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child, or that you are engaging in a terrorist plot, or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say 'I have a warrant' and go into your bedroom to rifle through your underwear and see if there's any evidence of wrongdoing.

    "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's no key or no door at all. How do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?"

  • "We have engaged the tech community aggressively, and my conclusion is that you cannot take an absolutist view on this."
  • "The whole Snowden disclosure episode elevated people’s suspicions. The Snowden issue vastly overstated the dangers to US citizens in terms of spying."
  • "I am not interested in overthrowing the values that have made us a great nation for expediency. But the dangers are real, maintaining law and order in a civilized society is important, protecting our kids is important, so I'd caution against an absolutist view on this."

You can watch Obama in action in the video below – just fast forward 41 minutes to skip to the action. ®

Youtube Video

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