I normally don’t follow South by Southwest too much but when Obama takes the stage to talk about privacy I can’t help but take note. Unfortunately his speech wasn’t surprising. It could be summed up as fuck your privacy:
President Barack Obama called on the tech community to build a safe encryption key to assist in law enforcement investigations, saying that if it failed, it could one day face a more draconian solution passed by a Congress that is less sympathetic to its worldview. The president said he could not comment on the FBI’s current fight with Apple over its demand that the company build software to unlock data on an iPhone used by one of the alleged San Bernardino shooters. But he spoke broadly about the need to balance privacy and security, and warned that absolutist views on both sides are dangerous.
Balance, in the case of privacy and security, means people like you and me get shitty crypto that the government, and anybody else with the master key, can break while the government gets to enjoy crypto we can’t break.
Obama warned against an absolutist view but crypto belongs to one of those very few things in the universe that is either black or white. There is no gray. Crypto is either effective, that is to say it has no known methods of attack that are faster than brute force, or it is ineffective. I’ve written extensively on this blog as to why this is.
The biggest problem with a master key is that anybody who holds that key can decrypt any data encrypted with a scheme that key can work for. If every iPhone was setup to decrypt the data with the government’s master key it would only be a matter of time, probably an alarmingly short period of time, before the key was leaked to the Internet and everybody in the world had the ability to decrypt any iPhone at will.
So we need an absolutist view because it’s the only view that offers any amount of security. But Obama heads one of the largest surveillance states in the world so it’s no surprise that he holds a total disregard for the security of us little people.