Calling Bull on Obama’s Call for Law Enforcement Access to Encryption

As the government’s fight to eliminate encryption as we know it, and ensure themselves unfettered access to all of all Americans’ communications, spreads out of the most-mediagenic example with Apple, Barack Obama has weighed in, using some of the oldest and sleaziest scare tactics available.

Speaking to an audience of technology executives at the South by Southwest festival, Obama said America had “already accepted that law enforcement can rifle through your underwear” in searches for those suspected of preying on children, and he said there was no reason that a person’s digital information should be treated differently.

“If, technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system, where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there is no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer?” Obama said. “How do we disrupt a terrorist plot?”

If the government has no way into a smartphone, he added, “then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in your pocket… This notion that somehow our data is different and can be walled off from those other tradeoffs we make, I believe, is incorrect.”

Obama has resorted to the low-level scare tactics, invoking a landscape where pedophiles and terrorist employ encryption to prey on our children, and blow up our homes. And the president insists we trust him on this, that should the government gain access to all of our communications via some encryption backdoor, the tool will only be used for hard-to-argue with good — specifically, child pornographers and terrorists.

Now do keep in mind that this is the same president who promised us soon after the Snowden revelations came out in 2013 that the feds were looking at “only metadata” and not reading Americans’ communications.

That said, maybe I am wrong to be so cynical. Maybe this time Obama is sincere in needing those encryption backdoors to protect us from the pedos and jihadis.

So, Barack, let’s put up or shut up.

You tell us exactly how many American communications your NSA, et al, have gathered in say the last five years. You then tell us how many of those communications had unbreakable encryption applied. Then tell us how many of those encrypted messages were directly connected to child porn or unambiguous terrorism cases. Then tell us exactly how many of those cases were left unprosecuted only because of some encrypted message.

And no cheating by falling back on the equally old scare tactic of “well, if we disrupt on case, it’s all worth it, I mean what if it was your child.” We are talking about abrogating the entire Fourth Amendment here. And as you say safety is worth sacrificing for, I say freedom is worth dying for.

You tell us all that, and let us — the people you are spying on — weigh out the risk-versus-gain, the so-called trade off between our freedom and our safety. And unless and until you’re ready to throw some real cards on the table, I call bullsh*t on your arguments. Sir.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.