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Obama's 'tone deaf' comments on encryption draw criticism at SXSW

President Barack Obama's recent comments on encryption and national security have drawn criticism from the highly connected audience of the South by Southwest festival, including one particularly prominent voice — Congressman Darrell Issa.


Rep. Darrell Issa speaking at a previous SXSW festival.


In an appearance at the festival last week, Obama warned against taking an "absolutist" position on encryption, saying that both sides need to make concessions. Unsurprisingly, that didn't sit well with SXSW attendees, who tend to side with Apple in favor of stronger encryption.
There's just no way to create a special key for government that couldn't also be taken advantage of by the Russians, the Chinese, or others who want access to the sensitive information we all carry in our pockets everyday." - Rep. Darrell Issa
Rep. Issa, R-Calif., spoke with USA Today about the encryption debate, and didn't mince words when it came to Obama's response.

"It was tone deaf," Issa reportedly said. "He did not read the room in that portion of the answer. There's just no way to create a special key for government that couldn't also be taken advantage of by the Russians, the Chinese, or others who want access to the sensitive information we all carry in our pockets everyday."

In Obama's view, un-hackable encryption is not an ideal solution. He believes law enforcement agencies should be given access to devices in limited cases, likening it to TSA checks at the airport or drunk driving checkpoints.

But to Issa, those comments were "a detriment to privacy."

Unlike many in politics or law enforcement, Issa has a background in technology. He was co-founder and CEO of Directed Electronics, a maker of car security products including the Viper alarm. He also served as chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, from 1998 to 2001 before becoming a member of the U.S. Congress.

Issa's stance is in opposition to many of his colleagues in Washington, who largely side with the FBI and believe Apple should create a "backdoor" to access iPhones that may be of interest to law enforcement. At the center of the debate is an iPhone 5c that was used for work by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack late last year.

Apple has countered by saying that creating a "backdoor" to its iOS platform would not only be a major security issue, but it could also set a precedent for governments to request access to devices in questionable situations.

Apple has received nearly unanimous support from Silicon Valley, with more than two dozen American technology firms signing amicus briefs backing the iPhone maker. A number of civil liberties groups, including the ACLU and EFF, have also stepped in on Apple's side.