President Obama says he leans more towards strong encryption than law enforcement

Graham Cluley

ObamaWell, this is somewhat refreshing.

Barack Obama, being interviewed by Re/Code, told journalist Kara Swisher that he was a “strong believer” in encrypted email.

“[I’m] a strong believer in strong encryption… I lean probably further on side of strong encryption than some in law enforcement.”

You can see Obama address the controversial issue in this YouTube video of the relevant section of the extensive interview about a wide range of technology topics:

“Ultimately everybody, and certainly this is true for me and my family, we all want to know that if we’re using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, that we don’t have a bunch of people compromising that process. There’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption.”

Obama goes on to explain that the issue is likely to become hotly debated in the public, if terrorists were to launch an attack that could have been averted – if law enforcement had been able to spy upon their communications.

“The first time that an attack takes place in which it turns out that we had a lead and we couldn’t follow up on it, the public’s going to demand answers.”

Personally that’s fine with me, because (as I’ve explained before) I don’t expect law enforcement to stop terrorism.

Obama’s comments come in the wake of other world leaders (such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron) calling for secure end-to-end encrypted communications to not be allowed, because of the difficulties that law enforcement faces in snooping upon them.

Cameron’s views have caused lively debate, as you can hear in this BBC Radio punch-up I had with Professor Anthony Glees, a professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham, who directs its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies.

Personally, I find Obama’s position encouraging, and Cameron’s opinion bird-brained.

I’m sure it won’t win Obama a lot of fans inside those sections of law enforcement who dislike the idea of people communicating securely, but it sure is refreshing for those of us who worry about how insecure communications could be abused by both the authorities and criminal hackers.

Graham Cluley Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

6 Replies to “President Obama says he leans more towards strong encryption than law enforcement”

  1. Favors it with a back door for gov't snoops.

    Key phrase here: "that we don’t have a bunch of people compromising that process." As long as the right people compromise the process it will be okay.

    If his lips are moving, he's lying.

    1. If you listen to the entire interview, you'll notice that the process is encryption itself. What he also discusses is that they want to also address the issue of how to obtain information needed/wanted when a warrant … well, warrants it. There is the problem though: it isn't that simple. He's only a politician and not a computer security professional so it is understandable that not everything is going to add up (that is the case with politics so it definitely is the case with something unrelated to politics!). Either everyone is spying or everyone has privacy – there is no in between. I don't really think backdoors are relevant here, at least in the sense of either extreme; yes, they have been suggested before, and yes they could address certain things (and also creating problems simultaneously), but encryption algorithms have also been broken in high profile cases of (example) child abuse (which, frankly, is good they were able to… for the kids especially – I know of one instance where they did not use backdoors, to do this).

      It isn't a matter of lies here (although yes, politicians have a knack for it, very likely even when they don't realise it, and they obviously can't speak about everything openly which is, in many people's mind, equal to lying), it is a matter of everyone wants their information safe but many simultaneously want the opposite – that warrants still have a use when it comes to obtaining evidence from a hard drive (example). That's impossible, at least if you go to either extreme. Ironically, he's being quite truthful in that part – many do want both. But technically it is binary and as such it isn't simple (not until it is somehow affected by quantum physics …). In the end, there isn't a good answer to everyone's concerns. That's very much like the rest of life.

  2. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, his credibility has long ago been damaged beyond repair (if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, etc. etc. ad nauseam). He is simply not believable. Yes, I think he is lying.

  3. Answer to April Schauer reply above President Obama didn't lie the insurance companies changed the game once it was declared a tax law. The only one who lying is the insurance companies their making money both ways. April don't believe the hype you hear and read in the media.. Read !

    1. Leroy,

      Do you really believe that the Obama admin is not in bed with the insurance companies? Do you seriously believe that the insurance companies were able to profit apart from coordination with the federal government? I do read – and you should study! For example, study such terms as "oligarchy", and "controlled opposition".

      1. Firstly: credibility isn't really relevant for personal view (opinion), is it? Absolutely not. Assuming it was only for himself (i.e he was only concerned with encryption – strong – if it was for him), the fact remains it isn't anything to do with credibility. Personal choices are only relevant to themselves and those that are directly involved (which doesn't include you). Therefore his credibility isn't really relevant to encryption (especially not when it is either in favour of or against). None of that changes, either, that strong encryption is important. If he claims it is, it doesn't matter if he thinks it because others tell him it, and it doesn't really matter if he believes it in full. That's all irrelevant because it is simply about him.

        Secondly, some facts for you, as well as some more information for you on US 'healthcare'.

        Fact: Insurance companies absolutely hate specifics of that law. Example: can't deny insurance to those with a pre-existing condition.
        Fact: Insurance companies are corrupt, will change policies (decisions, rather; policies aren't really relevant to this bit) as long as it fits the specific issue at hand. This even is a case-by-case (and customer-by-customer) fact.
        Fact: Some procedures cost in the hundreds of thousands (this is a global thing but the US isn't any different here, ironic as it might be). I know this because of family as well as me personally. Insurance companies will go so far as to approve the first and then a follow-up (procedure) they then complain about.

        I can go on and on if you really wanted, but the bottom line is this: insurance companies do not like the changes and they absolutely do change things (often, as long as they legally can.. and yes I have other examples) as long as it fits their agenda (and they really aren't in the right business but they won't change because their moral compass is broken if it ever worked.. so the fact they get a lot of money is all that matters to them). Healthcare is a disgrace in general but it is much worse in the US.

        Sadly, however, those that are healthy (and the vast majority of people are) simply do not understand the facts. They won't either, until something serious (and I mean chronic; sorry, a few months or a couple years doesn't count) afflicts them (and then they'll gladly take the benefits / whatever that they were once against… and if I'm to be honest, they don't deserve any help, certainly not the things they were once against.. but even then, that they're against helping others is… amazing, especially when the US is claimed to be the most giving country). Therefore, the fact healthcare is such a disgrace isn't really known (or believed) and nothing will change because of it. I know one thing – I have many friends who have told me over the years that even if there were otherwise good reasons to be in the US (and I would question it just like they would), they wouldn't follow through because of the poor healthcare system (and some in the US would claim that other countries have worse care, their own problems (all countries have their problems) but yet… I know that in emergencies, even if not emergency worth yof emergency department, they get appointments quite quick). Call it what you will, believe what you want, but that's the truth. You should rather be thankful you don't have these problems and whether you have the issue of having to change doctors (and especially true if because of insurance as you suggest above – that is an insurance issue, not anything else) or not, that is nothing compared to what many have (and I promise you you don't want to experience these things).

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