President Barack Obama said Friday that smartphones — like the iPhone the FBI is trying to force Apple Inc. to help it hack — can’t be allowed to be “black boxes,” inaccessible to the government. The technology industry, he said, should work with the government instead of leaving the issue to Congress.
“You cannot take an absolutist view on this,” Obama said at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. “If your argument is strong encryption no matter what, and we can and should create black boxes, that I think does not strike the kind of balance we have lived with for 200, 300 years, and it’s fetishizing our phones above every other value.”
Obama’s appearance on Friday at the event known as SXSW, the first by a sitting president, comes as the FBI tries to force Apple Inc. to help investigators access an iPhone used by one of theassailants in December’s deadly San Bernardino, California, terror attack. Apple has appealed a magistrate court order that it assist the government, saying to do so would undermine its encryption technology.
Rapid technological advancements “offer us enormous opportunities, but also are very disruptive and unsettling,” Obama said at the festival, where he hoped to persuade tech workers to enter public service. “They empower individuals to do things that they could have never dreamed of before, but they also empower folks who are very dangerous to spread dangerous messages.”
Siding with Apple are technology companies including Amazon Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc. and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. On Thursday, the government filed a memorandum in the case arguing that Apple would need to assign as few as six workers for as little as two weeks to hack into Syed Farook’s phone.
“This burden, which is not unreasonable, is the direct result of Apple’s deliberate marketing decision to engineer its products so that the government cannot search them, even with a warrant,” government attorneys said in the filing.