President Obama is Correct on Opening Our Phones. But First…

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In all of the excitement of this past weekend’s controversy over a possible radical authoritarian gaining control of the White House, largely ignored was a radical authoritarian currently in the White House advising us that we have no right to privacy. From The Register’s Chris Williams (NSFW-ish language warning):

SXSW Amid the row between Apple and the FBI over the unlocking of a mass murderer’s iPhone, President Barack Obama has told the tech world to suck it up and do what the Feds want.

Speaking today at hipster-circle-jerk SXSW in Austin, Texas, the United States’ Commander in Chief said phones and computers cannot be unbreakable “black boxes,” and that an “absolutist” view on encryption won’t fly with the laws and courts of the land.

Of course, the President and his staff, his military, his government agencies and his intelligence services all rely on tough and non-compromised encryption – but that’s not for you. You’re too busy “fetishizing” your smartphone, the leader of the free world said.

Among the president’s arguments he brought up what is a very good point:

“If there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child, or that you are engaging in a terrorist plot, or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say ‘I have a warrant’ and go into your bedroom to rifle through your underwear and see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing.

“The question we now have to ask is if technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there’s no key or no door at all. How do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?”

Fair enough. I think that the balance between privacy and security is one that any healthy society should have. And if the president is sincere about opening up information to the authorities, then my response to him is, “You first.”

As far as I know, the IRS doesn’t possess information that could compromise national security, so how about making public their records, and prosecuting its member who illegally destroyed records that were government property? And shall we get started on a former high ranking diplomat who compromised national security by exposing sensitive information to hackers? I’d like to think he has the authority to bring these records public if he had any real desire to do so, not to mention prosecuting her.

Contrary to what the Radical Left may believe, we Conservatives would like nothing more than to have the same level of blind faith in government as our Leftist brethren. Unfortunately, facts and reality don’t allow us to share that belief. Humans are, and always be, imperfect creatures and will do bad things. While we will never love government in the same way that lefties do, we’d have a much easier time trusting it if the government actually prosecuted those who abuse us with their power. Or as I said recently Mr. President, “Give a damn.

You don’t like American citizens having guns? Great! How about prosecuting the former Attorney General who put assault weapons into the hands of the drug lords who murdered one of your employees. Or how about when politically driven government thugs broke down doors in the middle of the night to terrorize families and their children? Where is the Department of Justice to investigate? Why is nobody on a very public trial and being punished for such an egregious offense? Or how about in the days leading up to your presidency when a local official leaked personal information of a private citizen who dared to question a politician? Instead of kicking her into another government job maybe the DOJ should have been prosecuting her? And don’t get me started on that high-ranking former diplomat who compromised national security…

Even if we see the government actively prosecute its officials who knowingly abuse their power, the debate over privacy will still never be a simple one. It’s just that if the government wants us to trust them, it would help if we could have a degree of trust in them not to abuse our personal information, and to show it is willing and able to punish its agents who do. And as we all know, the president “has a phone and a pen.” Using it on behalf of the American people would be a good start.

Addenda:

As I was wrapping up this post I read a piece from the @Vodkapundit that gave one other great point that I missed on my first reading of this story. Check out Obama: Encryption is too Good for You:

Technology has the power to take things which only the rich used to be able to get, and make them available to almost anyone. Obama bemoans that encryption is like “everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in your pocket.” Well, the rich will always enjoy the safety and security of Swiss bank accounts, but disc-level encryption — the very thing Obama wants to take away — makes that safety and security available to anyone willing to plunk down the money for a modern smartphone.

See, Obama isn’t wrong with the Swiss bank account analogy. He just doesn’t think you, the little people, should have what the rich have always enjoyed.

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Cross posted at Brother Bob’s Blog

Blogging by the credo of "Making the world a more offensive place, one blog post at a time", Brother Bob started writing posts around the beginning of the Obama presidency over at Brother Bob's Blog. A born-again Existentialist and self-professed libertarian with conservative tendencies, he has ironically chosen to live in the Washington, DC area - deep behind enemy lines. He has always loved history, and spent eight years volunteering as a tour guide on weekends, giving over 200 tours to roughly 2,500 mostly foreign guests. His tours were highlighted by stories generally not found in the history books or most other tours, such as the importance of the Battle if Antietam, the origins or Arlington Cemetery, and dispelling the myths of FDR's New Deal. Although his favorite subject to blog about is Economics, as seen in his Economics for Politicians series, his posts try to address angles that other conservative writers and the mainstream media (naturally!) miss. "There's no point in putting up a post on a subject that someone smarter than me has already written". He believes in the "Happy Warrior" approach, and tries to inject humor in his posts, sometimes successfully. Two such examples are his posts comparing the modern left to the horrible Star Wars prequels, and analyzing the laments of a DC woman in search of a feminist boyfriend. Brother Bob lives with his very patient wife known as Sister Babe, and their fantastic son. Little Bob. Little Bob is also the reason that being a tour guide came to an end, as spending Saturdays raising a son takes priority over giving lectures to foreign visitors on the folly of Keynesian economics. BB is also grateful for the opportunity to take his place among the outstanding writers at Flopping Aces, appreciates every person who takes the time to read his posts, and especially those who join him in the conversation in the comments.

19 Responses to “President Obama is Correct on Opening Our Phones. But First…”

  1. 1

    Petercat

    “How do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?”
    How have they done it until now?
    Hard work, intelligent people looking at details, sharing of information between agencies (except for 911).
    I will not give up my freedoms for the promise of a minuscule increase in safety.
    That small increase in safety from others would be accompanied by a large increase in danger from the government and it’s bureaucrats.

  2. 2

    Redteam

    @Petercat: You’re correct. I believe the US Government should still have to rely on a warrant to get info from a particular phone. No government agency is entitled to the capability to break the encryption on all smart phones. They would then abuse that privilege.

  3. 4

    Greg

    So who is the bigger threat to your privacy? The government, or the private sector?

    From the Windows 10 EULA:

    “Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.”

    Yep. They can do that. You won’t even know. The capability is built right into the new operating system. Your data won’t only reside on your own hard drive. It will also reside on Microsoft servers. There are other items of interest that aren’t even mentioned. Your computer or device microphone, for example, is now turned on all the time, by default.

    So, is a line being held by refusing to unlock the cell phone of a couple of known terrorists, who aren’t even alive at this point to lay claim to a right to privacy?

    Microsoft’s Windows 10 is a privacy nightmare.

    So far I’ve managed to keep Windows 7. This hasn’t been without effort. Twice now, they’ve loaded the entire installation package to a hidden file on my desktop without asking, ready to roll on remote command. Twice I’ve deleted it. Now I’ve got the cat door nailed shut, to keep the possum from getting back in.

  4. 5

    kitt

    Go Apple!
    No enslavement of any free market company.
    Maybe they cant, perhaps its like a scrambled egg the unscrambling software left intentionally undeveloped by the late founder. Jobs may be somewhere laughing.

  5. 6

    Redteam

    @Greg:

    So, is a line being held by refusing to unlock the cell phone of a couple of known terrorists, who aren’t even alive at this point to lay claim to a right to privacy?

    Greg, you missed the point. They are not asking Apple to unlock a couple of known terrorists cell phones. Apple agreed to do that almost immediately. What they are demanding of Apple is the software to break ALL Apple phones. That would kinda destroy Apple, don’t you think?

    entire installation package to a hidden file on my desktop without asking, ready to roll on remote command. Twice I’ve deleted it. Now I’ve got the cat door nailed shut,

    How were you able to do that, they’re doing the same thing to my laptop, everytime i turn around it’s attempting to load 10.

  6. 7

    Bill

    @Greg:

    So far I’ve managed to keep Windows 7. This hasn’t been without effort. Twice now, they’ve loaded the entire installation package to a hidden file on my desktop without asking, ready to roll on remote command. Twice I’ve deleted it. Now I’ve got the cat door nailed shut, to keep the possum from getting back in.

    First, that won’t happen (or you better hope it doesn’t). Jumping from 7 to 10 will crash your computer. Take my word for it, from personal experience (or, rather, my wife’s).

    In the past, I have expressed the opinion that I really don’t care if the government digs into my personal affairs because I am doing nothing wrong and they aren’t going to be coming after me. But, that was then and this is now.

    That was before we elected a despot to the throne that was so paranoid and insecure that he has had to use the IRS to go after political opponents. That was before we had a President that encouraged his followers to forward unhappy messages about his regime to his White House so these malcontents could be “re-educated”. Now, and forever more, we will have to worry about the next administration; who will be the next President and what lengths might they be willing to go to in order to maintain power.

    Thanks, Obama. Thanks for showing us that we should never have trusted and should never again have faith in our government. For, those like myself have seen the power of the federal government used to attack people who think like I do. People like you, Greg, now have to worry if a President Trump will use the precedent Obama set and attack people who think like YOU do (or YOU). I’ll just hazard a guess that you wouldn’t like that very much.

    So, unfortunately for our security, that level of privacy must be maintained and cherished. And THAT is why a Constitutional purist is needed in the White House.

  7. 9

    Nanny G

    I agree with comments #1 and 2.
    There is no reason Americans cannot own the very best phones (when it comes to encryption).
    There is a principle in investigation called Locard’s exchange principle.
    According to Locard, all acts of contact leave trace behind.
    Paul L. Kirk, 1953:

    “Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”

    We need to be better at investigating.
    It is the lazy way out to simply force all Americans to have easy-to-hack phones just in case they commit a crime.
    We deserve the very best technology can supply us that we can (individually ) afford.
    If you own a business, you might want to own an encryptable phone.
    If you merely run a family, you might not, but it should be your option!
    The straw man in Obama’s ”argument” is that investigators are not lazy. Therefore we don’t need to make their job easy for them.

  8. 10

    Greg

    @Redteam, #6:

    A Google search on “hidden file Windows 10” should bring up a number of articles on the topic. What you have to do depends on where you are in the upgrade process. The hidden folder where Windows 10 installation files have been staged for a roll out on individual PCs is $Windows.~BT. I set my PC to show hidden files and then searched my hard drive for that file. Sure enough, there it was, even though I had never elected to upgrade to Windows 10. I deleted it, and then shut off automatic updates to keep it from slipping back in. This is a pain, of course, because now I have to manually check for important security updates every few days, and then initiate their installation manually. Every few weeks Microsoft attempts to slip Windows 10 nagware back onto my machine. They’ve tagged the relevant updates as important, so you’ve got to look at each item now and figure out what it is.

    Needless to say, make sure you know you’ve got reliable instructions and a good idea what you’re doing before deleting files and changing settings, etc.

    I paid over $100 extra over a year ago to get Windows 7 instead of Windows 8 on a new machine. I guess that made me feel a bit more protective about my OS. I like Windows 7. I’ve got hardware and software that likes Windows 7. I resent being forced to replace it. Another annoying thing is that Windows 10 represents a fundamental change in the user’s relationship with Microsoft. You no longer buy an OS that you own. You are now purchasing a service from Microsoft. They will tinker with it whenever they want, however they wish.

  9. 11

    Petercat

    @Greg: #4
    We are in complete agreement on Win10. My two work computers have Win7 (I did the same thing, bought one with Win8 and paid $100.00 for Win7 Pro.)
    Also going through the same update crap on my laptop, which has to go online every couple of weeks or so. It’s had it’s camera and microphone physically removed.
    My main work computer never goes online, so I don’t worry about updates. And my web computer runs Linux.
    Seriously, if I didn’t have to have just the one stinkin’ program that needed Windows to run, I’d be Linux-only.
    Maybe I should go Apple… Nah, they’re next in the “We can haz your info!” gang.

  10. 12

    Larry Weisenthal

    Attorney General Holder had no knowledge of Fast and Furious, much less Obama. That has been conclusively established by a multitude of investigations. Likewise, responsibility for embassy security was a number of layers (like maybe 6 or 7) below Clinton, much less Obama. It’s like blaming the President or the Secretary of the Navy for some screw up by the officer in charge of securing ordnance for destroyers in the Pacific fleet.

  11. 13

    Bill

    @Larry Weisenthal: So, some rouge entity under Holder decided to run an in authorize scheme to sell dangerous weapons to Mexican drug cartels? Really? That’s your belief?

    Either you are sadly delusional or THAT would be the most out of control DOJ in history. Obama may not have known about it, but when he implemented executive privilege to shut down the investigation (Holder was not cleared of anything) he effectively said he DID know and needed executive privilege to protect himself.

    And, we have memos directe TO Hillary pleading for added security. Again, either responsibility or incompetence. Take you choice of Presidential disqualifications.

  12. 14

    kitt

    @Bill: A dead ambassador and requests for additional security, no one is fired, no one forwards these requests to the Secretary. Wheres the missing 6 BILLION dollars from the state dept under her watch and she wants the entire US budget? What does services rendered mean SHE signed a 50 million dollar taxpayer funded check for that amt.
    How was all the money to purchase so many high quality firearms not caught a low level officer that got those arms to drug cartels, on his expense account in the back of his prius?
    Someone is self check eyeballing for polyps of the colon to believe anything she says.
    The list goes on and on they either are criminal, or totally incompetent.

  13. 17

    Oblamo binLyen

    @Greg: And Apples is, your data is yours. There is a reason I don’t do Windoze or Google. Besides, we’ve looked at your files, they’re about as empty as the rest of your life.

  14. 18

    bobdog

    @Redteam:

    Had a client run into this last week. The upgrade triggered without provocation. It just launched. There was no red X in the corner to close it, and she was given the option to upgrade right that very second or postpone it – for up to five days.

    No problem, says I. I’ll just remote in and kill the task with Task Manager. Guess what? Kill Task didn’t shut it down. The only options were to start the upgrade now or up to five days later. Period.

    I gather from all this that Microsoft REALLY wants us all on Windows 10, whether we like it or not.

    Anyway, here’s a solution: Google a freeware utility called GWX. It will remove the hidden files and return you to the annoying upgrade reminder in your system tray. It seems to have worked.

  15. 19

    Ditto

    @Redteam:

    @Bill:

    And THAT is why a Constitutional purist is needed in the White House.

    Yeah, I wish we could find one of those.

    Maybe I should run for President. 🙂 I’m a “Constitutional purist” of the Antifederalist type.

    Microsoft has long been a company that wants to be able to spy on it’s users. To illustrate this, let me pass on the following tale, as related to me by a past Defense Department Computer Expert. To paraphrase:

    ‘Once upon a time, (during the 1990’s, after the creation of the Windows 95 OS but prior to Windows 98 & NT,) Microsoft tried to sell the military on a new prototype operating system. (Microsoft project name “Longhorn”) to replace Windows 95. There were many problems with this operating system. The worst from the military’s point of view was that it was insecure, allowing government testers (hackers) easy access an ability to navigate a computer’s hard-drives as if they were open books. The military rejected this operating system of course. Microsoft tried to recover on the loss by selling it as a limited market (test-bed) system to some overseas nation businesses as “Windows 97”. It failed to win that market over. Undaunted, Microsoft tried once more to rework this OS, finally releasing a modified (but still incomplete “beta”) version to the general public as “Windows ME” (aka. Windows Millennium Edition.)’. We all know what a turkey that was. Microsoft finally gave up on marketing variations on that OS, and the public lived happily ever after.’

    …Until Microsoft released Vista.

    … And now Windows 10..

    Still, Gates loves having back-doors in his operating systems (as hackers are well aware of).. If you want security, use Linux. or IBM’s i5/ OS.

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