Strong Crypto: An Offer in Compromise for President Obama

President Barack Obama talks with FBI executiv...
President Barack Obama talks with FBI executives after a speech during a visit to FBI headquarters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For months, US president Barack Obama played coy on the developing controversy over law enforcement bureaucrats’ demands that American tech innovators be required to build “back doors” into their products. That changed on March 11. In a talk at the Austin, Texas SXSW Interactive festival, Obama warned against “an absolutist view” of individual privacy and strong encryption.

“[I]f your argument is strong encryption, no matter what, and we can and should, in fact, create black boxes,” said Obama, “then that I think does not strike the kind of balance that we have lived with for 200, 300 years. And it’s fetishizing our phones above every other value.”

Weirdly citing the unconstitutional institution of local DUI checkpoints on our roads and the US government’s barbaric post-9/11 practice of subjecting air travelers to sexual assault by Transportation Security Administration employees in the nation’s airports, Obama appealed to the American tradition of “compromise” to support his argument. All, of course, while averring that he is “way on the civil liberties side of this thing.” With civil liberties friends like Barack Obama, who needs civil liberties enemies?

With apologies to the late Barry Goldwater, absolutism in defense of individual privacy and strong encryption is no vice, nor is moderation in their defense a virtue.

But if President Obama really is interested in a compromise, I guess I’m willing to offer one. It begins with four words:

You first, Mr. President.

In 2008, you promised Americans “the most transparent administration in history.” You’ve since not just failed to deliver on that promise, but taken things in exactly the opposite direction.

Your administration has denied or redacted parts of more Freedom of Information Act requests than any since the Act became law in 1966.

Chelsea Manning languishes in a military prison, Edward Snowden lives in exile, Julian Assange remains trapped in Ecuador’s embassy in London, and numerous other whistleblowers have been imprisoned or otherwise persecuted, all for the “crime” of telling us things about the US government that you didn’t want us to know.

You’ve even assumed the power to order American citizens assassinated — while refusing to let the rest of us know who they are or why you had them killed.

In theory, YOU work for THE REST OF US. Since when does the employee get to read the boss’s email on demand, but not vice-versa?

So show us you’re serious. Start with pardons for Manning and Snowden and an end to the pursuit of Assange. Then start fulfilling instead of denying FOIA requests. And the thing with murdering people? That needs to end, completely, permanently.

Get on those things, then we’ll talk. But I’m going to go ahead and predict that this isn’t the kind of “compromise” you meant.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Also published on Medium.

  • JdL

    So show us you’re serious. Start with pardons for Manning and Snowden and an end to the pursuit of Assange. Then start fulfilling instead of denying FOIA requests. And the thing with murdering people? That needs to end, completely, permanently.

    That would be good. I still won’t share my personal info with my employee, the President, however.

    • Yeah, I know. It was an offer I was very comfortable making, knowing that 1) it would never be accepted, and 2) my end of it was only a promise to DISCUSS the matter 🙂

      • JdL

        knowing that 1) it would never be accepted

        C’mon now: there’s got to be SOME minuscule but non-zero probability it could happen. A billion to one, maybe? No, too optimistic. 😉

        • I’d be surprised if it was THAT high. But if it was accepted, I’d take one for the team and agree to let him read MY email. Not yours, not everyone else’s, just mine 😀

          • JdL

            What a guy!