Last week, Apple was at the heart of a conversation during the Republican presidential debate over encryption and national security. Candidates such as Jeb Bush explained that, even if companies like Apple aren’t willing to give up user data, the government has “got to keep asking because this is a hugely important issue.” Last night, NBC held a Democratic presidential debate out of South Carolina, and once again, encryption and technology’s role in national security were hot button issues during the debate.
The NBC debate was co-run by YouTube and featured questions from prominent YouTubers. Popular technology reviewer Marques Brownlee, or MKBHD, brought up the issue of privacy and how the government has been calling for backdoor access into user devices. “Tech companies are responsible for the encryption technology to protect personal data, but the government wants a back door into that information,” Brownlee stated. “So do you think it’s possible to find common ground? And where do you stand on privacy versus security?”
The question was directed by the moderators towards Governor Marin O’Malley. O’Malley’s comments echoed some of the same sentiments that Tim Cook has voiced support for, including the idea that no one should ever give up their personal privacy towards national security. With help from The Washington Post’s transcript:
O’MALLEY: I believe whether it’s a back door or a front door that the American principle of law should still hold that our federal government should have to get a warrant, whether they want to come through the back door or your front door.
And I also agree, Lester, with Benjamin Franklin, who said, no people should ever give up their privacy or their freedoms in a promise for security.
So we’re a collaborative people. We need collaborative leadership here with Silicon Valley and other bright people in my own state of Maryland and around the NSA that can actually figure this out.
But there are certain immutable principles that will not become antique things in our country so long as we defend our country and its values and its freedoms. And one of those things is our right to be secure in our homes, and our right to expect that our federal government should have to get a warrant.
I also want to the say that while we’ve made some progress on the Patriot Act, I do believe that we need an adversarial court system there. We need a public advocate. We need to develop jurisprudence so that we can develop a body of law that protects the privacy of Americans in the information and digital age.
Senator Bernie Sanders was then asked about how the United States government should go about fighting home-grown terrorists. Sanders took this opportunity to inform Americans of how much information private companies are collecting about their users, while noting that the United States government has to work with Silicon Valley to insure that groups like ISIS are not using U.S. technology to transmit information.
Lester Holt: You have all talked about what you would do fighting ISIS over there, but we’ve been hit in this country by home-grown terrorists, from Chattanooga to San Bernardino, the recent shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia. How are you going to fight the lone wolves here, Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: OK. I just wanted to add, in the previous question, I voted against the USA Patriot Act for many of the reasons that Governor O’Malley mentioned. But it is not only the government that we have to worry about, it is private corporations.
You would all be amazed, or maybe not, about the amount of information private companies and the government has in terms of the Web sites that you access, the products that you buy, where you are this very moment.
And it is very clear to me that public policy has not caught up with the explosion of technology. So yes, we have to work with Silicon Valley to make sure that we do not allow ISIS to transmit information…
HOLT: But in terms of lone wolves, the threat, how would you do it?
SANDERS: Right. What we have got to do there is, among other things, as I was just saying, have Silicon Valley help us to make sure that information being transmitted through the Internet or in other ways by ISIS is, in fact, discovered.
But I do believe we can do that without violating the constitutional and privacy rights of the American people.
Hillary Clinton was then given 30 seconds to respond the issue of fighting “lone wolf” terrorists. During her time, Clinton praised the current White House Administration for its decision to meet with Silicon Valley executives two weeks ago. During the meeting, Tim Cook allegedly used the opportunity to again voice his opinion that there should be no backdoor access to user data and that it is up to the White House to be straightforward and say “no backdoor.”
Clinton also commented on speculation that during the White House administration’s meeting with Silicon Valley, no progress was made in the fight to use technology to counteract terrorism.
CLINTON: Well, I wanted to say, and I’ll do it quickly, I was very pleased that leaders of President Obama’s administration went out to Silicon Valley last week and began exactly this conversation about what we can do, consistent with privacy and security.
We need better intelligence cooperation, we need to be sure that we are getting the best intelligence that we can from friends and allies around the world. And then, we’ve got to recognize our first line of defense against lone wolf attacks is among Muslim Americans.
And it is not only shameful, it is dangerous for the kinds of comments you’re hearing from the Republican side.
We need to be reaching out and unifying our country against terrorist attacks and lone wolves, and working with Muslim Americans.
HOLT: And Andrea Mitchell has a follow-up.
MITCHELL: But — but — Secretary Clinton, you said that the leaders from the intelligence community went to Silicon Valley, they were flatly turned down. They got nowhere.
CLINTON: That is not what I’ve heard. Let me leave it at that.
If the most recent Republican and Democratic presidential debates are any indication, encryption and technology’s role in national security will continue to be crucial issues as we head into the 2016 election this November. The candidates in both parties seem to have differing views on the issue, so it will be interesting to see how American’s cast their votes.
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