The latest to speak out on the Apple and FBI controversy is none other than President Obama who earlier today attended a talk at South by Southwest Interactive. While the talk was about “civic engagement in the 21st Century,” the conversation not surprisingly turned to the government’s role in the high-profile Apple and FBI case.

Obama made it clear that he isn’t behind Apple in the case, saying that tech companies shouldn’t “take an absolutist view” on encryption and encouraging them to make concessions instead of forcing Congress to pass new law:

…technology is evolving so rapidly that new questions are being asked and I am of the view that there are very real reasons that we want to make sure that government can’t just willy nilly get into everyone’s iPhones, or smartphones, that are full of very personal information… lets face it, the whole Snowden disclosure episode has elevated people’s suspicions of this…

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 is no key, there’s no door, at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we solve, or disrupt a terrorist plot, what mechanisms to we have available to do simple things 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 the need to be able to get into that information somehow… folks on the encryption side will argue that any key whatsoever… could end up being used on every device… We’re going to have to make some decisions about how do we balance these respective risks…

So far, after refusing a judge’s request to unlock a device belonging to a suspect on behalf of the FBI in the case, Apple has taken the position that it can’t be legally compelled to create new products that allow the access government wants and that it should be up to Congress to make law that addresses the overall policy questions at hand.  And it looks like that’s where the case is headed as Apple expressed that view at a congressional hearing before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, ahead of a federal court hearing scheduled for March 22.

Obama continued by saying that companies shouldn’t take an “absolutist view” on encryption and that he thinks the solution will come down to creating a back door of sorts for government: “I suspect that the answer’s going to come down to how do we create a system where the encryption is as strong as possible, the key is as secure as possible, it is accessible by the smallest number of people as possible, for a subset of issues that we agree are important…”

Watch the full talk with President Obama below (the Apple/FBI talk specifically starts at 1:15:00)


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About the Author

Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.