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.
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.