Obama’s SXSW Speech Underscores Encryption Uncertainties

March 22, 2016 - 2 minutes read

mobile app security

Technology and politics are two of the most complex sectors in the national economy. Huge portions of the population can’t tell you what an electoral college is, or even name the mayor of their town. Outside the community of iPhone app developers — of which their are not nearly enough to meet demand — the general public knows very little about how iPhones, encryption, and cellular communications actually work.

So, it’s no surprise that the San Bernardino court case is difficult to parse, for those in the tech community as well as those in politics. This uncertainty was on full display last week when President Obama took the stage at SXSW Interactive to discuss the case, encryption, and the iPhone app development ecosystem as a whole with some of the top minds in the industry.

“We recognize that just like our other rights — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, et cetera — that there are going to be some constraints that we impose in order to make sure that we are safe, secure, and, uh, living in a civilized society,” said the president to a crowd of techies and San Francisco iPhone app developers.

If the president looked uncomfortable with the issue, it was with good reason; the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act specifically prevents the government from controlling how a company designs and releases a hardware or software product (in this case, the hypothetical “back door iOS.” This may seem like a Godsend to iPhone app developers in their quest to avoid manufacturing an insecure OS (presuming such an OS would eventually fall into the hands of malicious hackers), but the FBI is citing another statute, the All Writs Act, to support their demands. According to the All Writs Act, the CALEA is essentially void because the FBI has a warrant for this particular case.

Regardless of the morality and consequences for either ruling, the current situation appears 50–50. iPhone app developers are hoping it won’t come to pass. If it does, the iOS security landscape is certain to change fundamentally as developers prepare for the inevitability of future data breaches.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,