Obama criticized for ‘tone deaf’ comments at SXSW regarding Apple’s fight against government overreach

“It is inescapable: The Apple-FBI dust-up is never far from thought at SXSW,” Jon Swartz reports for USA Today. “From President Obama’s answer to a question on the topic following his keynote speech Friday, to a rebuke from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today, the privacy-vs.-national security debate is front, center and in the background here.”

In an answer to a question about the case after his SXSW keynote speech Friday afternoon, Obama “said, ‘There has to be some concession to the need to get into that information somehow,'” Swartz reports. “The president’s comment, which buttressed the FBI’s argument, did not play well here, one of the most influential tech conferences in the world. ‘It was tone deaf; he did not read the room in that portion of his answer,’ Issa, a former chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (now Consumer Technology Association), said in an interview Sunday morning. ‘There’s just no way to create a special key for government that couldn’t also be taken advantage of by the Russians, the Chinese, or others who want access to the sensitive information we all carry in our pockets everyday.'”

Swartz reports, “‘Obama’s rant on encryption… was a detriment to privacy,’ said Issa, who served as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2011 to 2015.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Again, encryption is either on or off. This is a binary issue. There is no in-between. You either have encryption or you do not.

There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a back door in, that back door’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, December 2015

This is not about this phone. This is about the future. And so I do see it as a precedent that should not be done in this country or in any country. This is about civil liberties and is about people’s abilities to protect themselves. If we take encryption away… the only people that would be affected are the good people, not the bad people. Apple doesn’t own encryption. Encryption is readily available in every country in the world, as a matter of fact, the U.S. government sponsors and funs encryption in many cases. And so, if we limit it in some way, the people that we’ll hurt are the good people, not the bad people; they will find it anyway. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, February 2016

Oppose government overreach.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

The U.S. government’s fight with Apple could backfire big time – March 14, 2016
John Oliver just smartly explained Apple’s fight against U.S. government overreach – March 14, 2016
U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa at SXSW: ‘Hold your iPhone a little bit higher, so the FBI can hear us better’ – March 14, 2016
Obama pushes for iPhone back door; Congressman Issa blasts Obama’s ‘fundamental lack of understanding’ – March 12, 2016
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch backs U.S. government overreach on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – March 11, 2016
Former CIA Director: FBI wants to dictate iPhone’s operating system – March 11, 2016
U.S. government takes cheap shots at Apple – March 11, 2016
FBI warns it could demand Apple’s iPhone code and secret electronic signature – March 10, 2016
California Democrat Diane Feinstein backs U.S. government overreach over Apple – March 10, 2016
Obama lists the ‘tech leaders’ involved in new U.S. Cybersecurity Initiative and purposely snubs Apple – March 10, 2016
Snowden: U.S. government’s claim it can’t unlock San Bernardino iPhone is ‘bullshit’ – March 10, 2016
U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa: The FBI should try to unlock shooter’s iPhone without Apple’s help – March 2, 2016
U.S. Representative Darrell Issa on Apple vs. FBI: Very scary when your government wants to know more about you – February 24, 2016
U.S. government seeks to force Apple to extract data from a dozen more iPhones – February 23, 2016
Apple could easily lock rights-trampling governments out of future iPhones – February 20, 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook lashes out at Obama administration over encryption, bemoans White House lack of leadership – January 13, 2016
Short-timer U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasts Apple for protecting users’ privacy against government overreach – September 30, 2014
Obama administration demands master encryption keys from firms in order to conduct electronic surveillance against Internet users – July 24, 2013


  1. Surprise…surprise…Issa tries to score cheap political points…doesn’t mention his fellow Republicans who side with Obama on this issue, including all GOP presidential candidates.

    I give Obama credit for having the courage to make that statement to a crowd that he knew would not particularly like to hear it. That’s a far cry from most politicians, including Issa, who just say whatever they think their audience wants to hear.

    And I’ll take Issa more seriously when and if he finally admits the truth regarding the science of climate change. As long as he denies basic science, and is an impediment to protecting our planet, I don’t really respect him at all.

      1. well, issa is a real piece of work…. and EXTREMELY PARTISAN.

        just to illustrate, he was the former chairman of the congressional committee on oversight and government reform. he was barred and escorted from the committee room during the benghazi hearings by his fellow republican successor trey gowdy, who himself is no shrinking violet in the partisanship department. one can only wonder why…

        i will not be surprised to eventually learn that his current stand is based upon the opportunity to grab headlines while indulging his passion to criticize obama, ( of which most even minded people would agree there are plenty of grounds for that) only to see him change his tune and support a back door once it is proposed by a republican administration, should one be elected this go around.

        this guy may be in our corner at the moment, but he is not to be trusted for the long haul.

    1. You are a pawn.

      Anthropogenic climate change theories are based on temperature records that start in 1880 (about when The Little Ice Age ended), that weren’t exactly accurate, along with a bunch of manipulated “global average” numbers that measure/prove nothing. Ice core data goes back 20,000 years. These show that there were several periods in the last 10,000 years with global temperatures significantly above temperatures today. Note: there were no cars or factories during any of these periods.

      The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway.

      Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

      Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. — The Associated Press, November 2, 1922

      1. First 2014, Then 2016, you are completely tone deaf. It’s my assumption that you are one of the admins of this site and you spew this stuff just to get some of that click bait loving.

        The only think you know less about than politics and public policy is science.

      2. You continue to mis-state the case for climate change to suit your erroneous beliefs. It seems you have no scientific background, or desire for rigorous, critical thinking. You insist on conflating 100 years of recent human experience with incomparably longer historical, geologic, and planetary time periods up to hundreds of millions of years. You insist on the false assumption that there is no “background noise” of geologic or planetary influences on the earth to account for in the context of sorting the “signal from the background noise” of data relating to planetary change.

        Scientists have global temperature and carbon dioxide data that goes back at least 500 million years and maybe longer. Yes, the earth’s atmospheric temperature is known to have been considerably higher (and also lower) at some points in earth’s history, and the same is true of CO2. The long-term changes in atmospheric CO2 levels are associated with huge and long-term earth processes. But this does not prove that unprecedented recent human population growth and associated prodigious combustion of fossil fuels (not to mention deforestation) in the past 100 years does not itself qualify as a major “earth process” that is altering the planet independently from any other underlying earth events or processes.

        You confuse a short human time frame of decades with incomparable geologic and planetary time frames of millions of years. I know geologists, and their sense of time is humongous: they think nothing of jumping 50 million years between geologic periods and events the way I talk about yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Incidentally, geologists believe modern humans have made such a huge impact on the planet that it constitutes a new geologic era. They are only debating what to call the new geologic era, and when to say it started. Some think it began 10,000 years ago when modern humans “took root” on the planet. Others feel it should date from the Roman empire. Some say we should say it started with the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s. Others say we should date the latest geologic period as of WWII.

        “People are changing Earth so much, warming and polluting it, that many scientists are turning to a new way to describe the time we live in. They’re calling it the Anthropocene — the age of humans.” http://www.therakyatpost.com/world/2014/10/14/scientists-mull-age-humans-era-mark-mankinds-impact-earth/

        Except I would not call it the anthropocene epoch — I would call it the “anthropo-obscene” period. It is a shame what humans are doing to the planet.

        The earth’s atmospheric CO2 level was recently measured at 403 ppm (parts-per-million), which represents a staggering 44% increase over the level of 280 ppm not more than 100 years ago. http://phys.org/news/2016-03-carbon-dioxide.html While CO2 is generally inert, the real problem is that it is a very powerful “greenhouse” gas, as it excels at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

        If you understand the chemical reaction called combustion, then you know that burning 1 pound of carbon produces 3.67 pounds of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere. 1 gallon of gasoline contains about 5.5 pounds of carbon, so burning 1 gallon of gasoline produces and emits 20 pounds of CO2 into the air. This begins to indicate the scale of human-produced carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere. Which begins to explain global warming.

        Look it up. All the data are readily available and easily verifiable. Use your critical thinking abilities. Don’t just cherry-pick arguments to support previous beliefs. Make sense of all the data and all the evidence, collectively. Keep an open mind. Seek the truth.

      1. Nancy Reagan was a charming woman, who did some good things. But she was far from perfect. Like her husband, she refused to acknowledge and help the AIDS crisis until very late. She was also heavily into astrology, which is scary considering her influence on the president.

        It’s perfectly fine that Obama did not attend her funeral; she got enough accolades and dignitaries there.

      1. There is man made climate change, and the vast majority of scientists agree on this. To deny this science is like denying gravity. There is no debate; it’s real. It’s utter foolishness. And ironically, you do realize that Tim Cook accept the reality of climate change, and that Apple’s publicly stated stance is to accept this reality and try to do something about it.

        If you don’t believe in the science fine, but don’t get in the way of people trying to save the planet.

  2. One reason why politicians like our POTUS don’t understand this encryption debate is become they are lawyers. Attorneys a trained to argue multiple sides of an issue. To them right and wrong is irrelevant and the best solution is usually one created by compromise from both sides.

    But the sciences don’t understand this thing called compromise. Math dictates that 2+2=4. Physics says gravity makes things fall. Chemistry says water is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. You can’t argue these facts. There is no compromise or meeting in the middle.

    That’s the way encryption works. It is on or it is off. No compromise is possible.

    So when you hear a political say a backdoor is required, they really just want you to bend over so they can give you the shaft.

    1. Many of those politicians truly believe a compromise solution is possible and best. It is quite difficult to explain, even to the smartest of them, that it is literally impossible to create such a solution and keep it protected and accessible only by law enforcement, and only under legitimate circumstances.

      More importantly, as John Oliver explains (linked to in another article here), this is the discussion about what is worse: terrorists, criminals and pedophiles being able to communicate without the possibility of surveillance, or complete loss of encrypted communication anywhere, anytime, most importantly, even for the matters important to national security. Even if people do come to realise that encryption is either on or off, there will be those who argue which price is more expensive to pay: protection of criminals and terrorists, or compromising national security, never mind privacy of citizens, as well as corporations (by weakening encryption).

      1. And for many, giving up privacy and secrecy (even of national security data) is a smaller price to pay than letting terrorists, pedophiles and criminals freely communicate without the ability for their surveillance.

        I don’t know anyone personally who believes this, but I can see many who seem to argue this out there.

    2. Putting aside the comment about lawyers, I think you are right that anyone involved in the political or court systems learns fairly quickly that compromise is generally the best way to achieve the best available outcome (there are always much better unavailable outcomes). This happens to be one of the exceptions to that general rule. Because strong encryption is already out in public, criminals are going to use it no matter what Apple does with its software. There is little to be gained in the long run by compromising iPhone security and much to be lost.

      Somehow, that message isn’t getting across… in part because of factors I described in a ridiculously long post on an earlier thread. Briefly, many of the messengers are obscuring the message by presenting it in an unnecessarily confrontational way.

      Just one quibble: when the President said “there must be some way to get to that information” without broadly compromising privacy, he was not talking specifically about the information in the San Bernardino phone. He was talking more generally about any information that would be accessible via a lawful warrant if it were stored anywhere but on a secure device. As you observe, he does not acknowledge (and I suspect does not understand) that the current lack of “some way” to do that is not due to obstinacy on Apple’s part but due to the very nature of strong encryption.

  3. I find it funny reading some of the comments. How many of you actually watched the whole video? It’s on whitehouse.gov.

    I think Obama gave a fairly good explanation of why it’s critical that the government not “be in the dark” while also saying he is strongly on the side of protecting civil liberties. He never specifically comments on apple vs the FBI because he can’t. But he is clear that people can’t walk around with Swiss bank accounts in their pocket. In spite of what mdn says about encryption is binary, I think obama is right to urge Americans to not be absolutists.

    Don’t get me wrong, the government can’t even enforce the do not call list so I am wicked skeptical about their ability to come up with oversight to protect back doors but the government cannot be in the dark when it comes to crime and security.

    Personally I think the dialogue with the Feds and the high technology Community is where the answer is. Collaboration is the answer.

    1. Ah! Somebody else who actually watched the whole thing instead of reacting to edited headlines and soundbites. I think that POTUS makes the best argument possible against “black boxes” that are not subject to access as the Fourth Amendment provides. The problem is that there is—at least at present—no apparent technological means to allow access pursuant to a lawful warrant without also allowing unlawful access by a wide variety of bad actors. The President’s conclusion is based on the false premise that such means exist or can easily be developed.

        1. I’m not quite sure of your point. Obviously, every government search and seizure is subject to the Fourth Amendment, with no exceptions. However, the tradeoff between privacy and public safety incorporated into the Amendment was that every American place and person was subject to lawful search (one conducted under the terms of the Amendment). Until recently, that also had no exceptions (apart from a few privileged areas, like spousal communications, that were carved out by statute or court rules).

          The issue here is that unbreakable encryption has created some areas that are not subject to search with even the most perfect compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That is a fundamental change, even though we both agree that the government reaction to the change is irrational overreaching.

        2. Wrong, bot. Technologies exist that were not spelled out in the Constitution. That’s why there are thousands of laws that spell out how the concepts in the Constitution are applied to complex real world events.

          … and if you bothered to read the Constitution, it clearly gives authorities full access to all property when a proper warrant is authorized. That includes “papers”, which can be electronic today.

          Take off your extreme pro-Cook filters and read the law for once.

      1. Thanks for being the “other” person who actually watched it, TxUser.

        I happened to see a video the other day of two guys remotely shutting the engine down of a Ford car while it was on the highway. This was a perfect example of backdoors that already exist and illustrates their obvious downside. I’ve been comparing the FBI’s demand that Apple build a govtOS as the equivalent of designing cars with a remote kill switch for anti-locking breaks, airbags, seat belts and any of the other mandatory safety and emissions features the government requires manufacturers to adhere to for the public good. Make the car safe but give us the ability to override it to make it unsafe when we choose to and without consideration for all the hacks out there that will access the car and do stupid sh-t just to get their jollies.

        I don’t think the President was suggesting that unlawful people can be prevented from doing bad things. I think what he was saying was that its not a ZERO SUM Game. Their are compromises and tradeoffs that have to be made and the decisions have to be based on the best possible outcome for the government to do its job and for citizen’s to protect their privacy. So get ready for intrusions on your phone, just like you when you stand in line at the TSA line at the airport. No one despises this stuff more than me but I don’t see how Apple wins this case.

        The best thing Apple could do is develop a plausible scenario in which a criminal or some government hacker from China or Russia is able to remotely control phones and IoT devices to cause a major crisis that is worse than the government’s inability to get access to criminal activity. If someone could prove that creating a backdoor would create a doomsday scenario far bigger than the benefits of access, then that might give the government pause.

    2. That’s like saying “Americans shouldn’t be absolutist regarding 2+2 equalling 4”, there is no “other way”. It IS binary. Collaboration is great, but there is nothing to collaborate on, something is either secure and keeps everyone out, or it is not and does not.

      Simply put, if Apple unlocks the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, they will unlock your iPhone at the same time. Don’t use an iPhone? That’s OK. Once there is a precedent, the rest (Android, Windows, etc…) will follow suit.

      You and I are at far greater risk of identity theft than terrorism, and creating a backdoor is a greater risk than not getting the info in the San Bernardino phone.

      The only door that can not be broken open is one that does not exist. If it exists someone will find it, and once they find it they WILL open it, and once it’s open it can’t be closed.

  4. Until Obama changes his tone on encryption and the FBI’s war against Apple I will be deleting all the fundraising emails Obama and the dems keep sending me. Screw that! You won’t get any sympathy from this long term AAPL shareholder.

  5. Say what you want about Tim Cook; but he has a moral compass and doesn’t change his message every other day—which is more than you can say about 99.9% of our so-called “leaders”.

    1. I do give Tim Cook credit for his values, and for sticking to them.

      That being said, he has it easy compared to the POTUS. He can afford to take the side of the issue that benefits his company.

      POTUS has magnitudes of more responsibility on his shoulders than any CEO…and must balance out a multitude of interests. POTUS is charged with keeping the American public safe, and every morning he is briefed on the security threats to our country. That kind of alters your view. Tim Cook would acknowledge this fact.

      It’s easy to criticize POTUS, and sometimes it is justified, but if you watch his comments, you’ll see he’s trying to be very reasonable on this issue.

      1. I would prefer to say the president is practicing diplomacy in this case. Diplomacy being, as some wise person observed, being “the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a big stick”.

        Over the weekend, Gruber published in “Daring Fireball” two examples of our (U.S.) government’s ability to protect security devices, the skeleton keys for travel locks and the security keys for elevators in New York City. Neither case inspires this citizen’s confidence in our government’s ability to protect information.

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