Apple case exposes ongoing rift in Obama administration over encryption policy

“Even as the Department of Justice battles Apple in court over access to encrypted data, the Obama administration remains split over backing requirements that tech manufacturers provide law enforcement with a ‘back door’ into their products, according to a dozen people familiar with the internal debate,” Joseph Menn and Dustin Volz report for Reuters. “FBI Director James Comey and the DOJ – who are fighting to access an iPhone tied to the San Bernardino attacks – have long tried and failed to convince other departments to join the broader battle against unbreakable encryption, the current and former government officials said.”

“Federal justice officials argue that strong encryption makes it harder to track criminals, a central contention in the iPhone case. But officials in other departments – including Commerce, State and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – counter that encryption is integral to protecting U.S. secrets and the technology industry,” Menn and Volz report. “Some government officials also worry that confronting the tech sector on the issue could heighten distrust of American products overseas and drive terrorists and top criminals to seek foreign-made encryption. Several key officials in the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security opposed the fight with Apple based on those concerns, the sources said.”

“Years of interagency debates over encryption have left the Obama administration lacking a cohesive policy stance on the issue, many tech industry leaders have said,” Menn and Volz report. “The tech industry has united behind Apple, with more than 40 companies this week submitting legal briefs arguing that compliance with the judge’s order would undermine encryption and public trust in Internet security. By contrast, the division among government agencies has left some administration officials in an awkward position of publicly supporting the Justice Department’s case against Apple while also acknowledging the need for strong encryption. They have been more vocal about their concerns behind closed doors, according to four people who have spoken with them or their subordinates.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This government overreach – that despicably and transparently attempts to use terrorist victims to sway judges’ and public opinion – will only cause Apple to accelerate their efforts to create even more impenetrable operating systems and computing devices. In short, this will backfire on those seeking to weaken encryption.

Apple VP: It’s so disappointing that the U.S. government wants us to sell less-secure technologies – March 7, 2016
Seth Meyers of NBC’s ‘Late Night’ looks at Apple vs. U.S. government – March 6, 2016
Why Apple should hold firm against U.S. government overreach – March 6, 2016
Why even Apple’s mortal enemies are lining up to protest U.S. government overreach – March 4, 2016
San Bernardino DA: Terrorist’s county-owned iPhone could contain ‘dormant cyber pathogen’ or something – March 4, 2016
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner: U.S. government risks opening a Pandora’s Box in Apple iPhone case – March 4, 2016
Former U.S. Homeland Security Chief: iPhone override would be software equivalent of biological weapon – March 4, 2016
U.S. Congressman introduces bill to forbid federal agencies from purchasing Apple products until company unlocks terrorist’s iPhone – March 3, 2016
Apple is racking up supporters in privacy fight against U.S. government overreach – March 3, 2016
Husband of San Bernardino terrorism victim backs Apple vs. U.S. government overreach – March 3, 2016
Over 40 companies to back Apple vs. U.S. government overreach; beleaguered Samsung still thinking about it – March 3, 2016
U.S. Defense Secretary says strong encryption essential to national security, not a believer in back doors – March 3, 2016
Apple digs in for long fight against U.S. government overreach: ‘There is no middle ground’ – March 3, 2016
ACLU, other privacy groups urge U.S. judge to support Apple vs. U.S. government in iPhone case – March 2, 2016
Can the FBI force a company to break into its own products? No, says U.S. Magistrate – March 2, 2016
Apple CEO Cook decried Obama’s ‘lack of leadership’ on encryption during a closed-door meeting last month – February 29, 2016
Obama administration set to expand sharing of data that N.S.A. intercepts – February 28, 2016
Apple’s fight with U.S. could speed development of devices impervious to government intrusion – February 24, 2016
Petition asks Obama administration to stop demanding Apple create iPhone backdoor – February 19, 2016
Obama administration claims FBI is not asking Apple for a ‘backdoor’ to the iPhone – February 18, 2016
Obama administration wants access to smartphones – December 15, 2015
Obama administration war against Apple just got uglier – July 31, 2015
Obama’s secret attempt to ban cellphone unlocking, while claiming to support it – November 19, 2013


  1. This is what happens when government is run by a politician with no experience ever running a profitable business. None of the departments are on the same page, infighting prevails, chaos reigns while the executive is out playing golf and speaking at campaign events.

    Politicians are nothing but inexperienced, incompetent fools whose only goal is to gain power and enrich themselves. Is it any wonder Trump is so popular.

    1. WOW, Totally agree. Well said.
      There are plenty of solutions out there, but no one cares cause it does not foster their current career. 🙁 If politicians had some intelligence, they would see this.

      So sad. And scary for out future.

    2. There are many specious, partisan posts on this forum. This happens to be one of the legitimate gripes about the Obama Administration. There is no excuse for allowing this chaos surrounding encryption to last for years. It should have been resolved after three to six months of serious research and debate.

  2. There’s no rift here, though the media like to create them even when they’re not present. Rather, Obama has explicitly stated that there should be an open debate, both within his administration, and beyond, about this complex issue, which is what is happening. As is pretty obvious by now, there is no easy answer to this, and a lot of factors come into play. Obama knows that it’s best to have an open discussion on this among all the key players, and then to see how things develop.

    Right now I’d say that the ‘climate of opinion’ is moving in Tim Cook’s direction.

    1. Here I would have to disagree. ” there is no easy answer to this,” There are a number of answers that satisfy both sides needs, but the government (the one with final power) is too busy playing politics to work to a solution.

      As an engineer, when I see a problem, I look at solutions and NOT POWER Trips, power plays, and greed. Solutions which in this case actually come with future designs.
      But this is the government and we know the level of intelligence of politicians. So Sad.

    2. Your opinion is directly at odds with what Tim Cook said recently, and with what we see. If Obama wants an open debate on the matter, he and his cabinet chiefs and underlings are going about it in the exact wrong way.

      Who do you think we should believe?

  3. Apple should assume that it will get NO JUSTICE from the supreme court on this isssue too and pre emptively double down on all possible security and encryption design.

    It’s a shame that though Apple spent all that money on the spaceship here in the DSA (Dysfunctional States of America), it will be forced to re-locate to Canada or elsewhere, where it will get the respect and appreciation it deserves.

  4. Agreed that if this U.S. security policy forbids Apple to encrypt devices without a back door other manufacturers overseas will so encrypt. Making us weaker in the world’s overall security scheme, and Apple’s products to be shunned overseas creating financial hardship and fewer jobs. How stupid do you have to be as an elected official not to immediately & easily see the futile folly of this? It appears not many get elected on the basis of common sense intelligence.

    1. Please, this isn’t about the intelligence of the politicians we elect. Most of them are scary smart. This is about power and personal wealth. State security establishments are about having power to solve their crimes. Politicians are about gaining/maintaining personal power to enhance the quality of their lives and egos. Businesses are about creating/continuing to sell products to achieve their ends. Private citizens are about maximizing their personal security to pursue their quality of life needs.

      People equivocating about their position on encryption are merely triangulating to achieve their personal goals. There isn’t really any middle ground on encryption. You’re either for it to enhance your personal goals, or against it if you think you can achieve your goals without it, including weakening others to your advantage.

      Of course, there’s the average person of average intelligence who might not understand or care about the issue, and are easily swayed by other members of their tribe who they give up power to to go about their lives and not think about it. Enter the realm of the opportunistic politician, whether in government, business, or the local club.

      So, I’d encourage people to think a bit more cynically about the motivations of those we entrust to think for us. Our goals may not always converge.

        1. I took an online IQ test a few years ago and scored in the low genius camp. The results included types of jobs in various IQ point ranges. The number one position in the lower genius range is politician. Interestingly, doctors are categorized in a lower IQ range than politician.

      1. Having worked for politicians and known many government representatives I beg to disagree about intelligence, especially in regards to technology. They may be a few in the batch feigning their ignorance and manipulating, but those are in the minority.

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