AUSTIN, TEXAS -- During his keynote on the opening day of the SXSW Interactive conference here, President Barack Obama called on the digital media technology community -- both as an industry and as citizens -- to help the U.S. government solve big problems ranging from enabling better user experiences for federal agencies to making it easier to vote to combating violent extremism. He also addressed the tech industry’s growing concerns about the role government agencies are playing in encryption and security of consumer technologies.
While he said he could not comment on the current case between the FBI and Apple about hacking into the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, President Obama said he believed America needs to balance warranted access by criminal investigators with civil liberties.
“My view, so far, is that you shouldn’t take an absolutist view either way,” he said, including “fetishizing our phones above every other value.”
Whether it is criminal investigations to find an abducted child or thwarting terrorism, President Obama said there should be no difference between a judge issuing a warrant to search someone’s home or the data on their smartphone.
“This notion that somehow our data is different and can be walled off from those other tradeoffs we make, I believe is incorrect,” he said -- adding that access to such data should be “narrow,” under “constraint” and “oversight.”
If not, he warned that the next time “something really bad happens the politics of this will swing and it will become sloppy and rushed” -- and he used that argument to encourage the tech community to work with -- not in opposition to -- the government to find a reasonable solution.
Mostly, President Obama spoke optimistically about the role the digital media technology community could play in making the government work better.He cited a meeting he just had with a group of filmmakers and technology experts to help develop methods for combating violent extremists like ISIS’ use of digital media to recruit young people. He emphasized that those efforts should be done by private industry and individual citizens, because doing it through the government would not be seen as authentic and it would also raise the potential for propaganda.