The news has been flooded with reactions to Apple’s principled stance in defense of user privacy. But even as Apple opposes the FBI's demands to undermine the security of its operating system, where is President Obama on the issue of strong encryption?
On Wednesday, the President's press secretary said that "the F.B.I. can count on the full support of the White House." Does that mean President Obama is going to turn his back on strong security for modern tech?
EFF, Access Now, and a coalition of nonprofit and industry groups launched a public petition calling on President Obama to defend strong encryption and oppose backdoors in September. We used the We The People API, Obama’s preferred petition tool, and quickly surpassed 100,000 signatures.
President Obama has promised to respond to any We the People petition that receives at least 100,000 signatures. But so far, we’ve gotten only nonresponses.
The We the People site shows a brief message from White House staff dated December 8, 2015, stating that the White House "wants to hear from you on encryption" and encouraging people to send more feedback on the issue. Then on December 24, 2015, the White House acknowledged it had received over 5,000 responses and asked for even more feedback.
The White House ends its message with “Thanks, and we’ll be in touch soon.”
It’s been nearly two months without an update. With the FBI pressuring Apple to break the security of the iPhone, the stakes are higher than ever.
Remember, this isn’t just about one phone. If Apple caves to government demands, it creates a key that could potentially be exploited by other government agencies—including those outside the United States—and may be a tempting target for hackers.
As Apple explained in its recent FAQ, “Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks.”
That means all Apple users will be less secure, including those in the White House.
This is an issue that President Obama should care about personally. After all, he posted his first tweet using an iPhone, he uses an Apple iPad 3 and a 2013 MacBook Pro at his Oval Office desk, his assistants are Mac enthusiasts, and he even gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod.
It’s time for President Obama to show leadership and courage on encryption. We’re calling on the President to stand with human rights organizations, tech companies, and over 100,000 concerned technology users and defend encryption.