Practicing Political Correctness


The US President is being careful not to choose sides in the Apple-FBI saga

SXSW, an annual event for interactive media, music festivals and conferences, sees a range of celebrities, musicians, artists and other famous characters attend. Though among them this year, for the first time ever, was perhaps the pinnacle of important public figures; the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

It perhaps was not Mr Obama’s intention to talk about the intense battle taking place between Apple and the FBI, regarding the unlocking of an iPhone belonging to a deceased terrorist, but the subject inevitably came up (the White House did, in fact, state that the President would not be talking about the legal battle during his attendance). But at such an event, where technology is very much front and centre, it would have been quite a task to skillfully avoid the debate.

However, during an interview during the event, there was nothing too exciting to derive from his comments. The President’s cautiousness to not to directly comment on the actual legal clash was very evident in his remarks. Interestingly, though, Mr Obama did claim to be “way on the civil liberties side of this thing,” adding that “People on the encryption side will argue, any key, even if it starts with just one device, can be used on every device,” but then went on to say that though he believed this was “technically true”, this argument can be “overstated”. Mr Obama also made an important point about concessions in his explanation about how the belief that peoples’ data “can be walled off from those trade-offs we make” was wrong, and that some concessions would have to be in the digital realm.

What can be interpreted by these remarks is a routine conservative response to a complex situation. Mr Obama gave a fairly balanced outlook on the subject, without making outlandish claims (unlike Donald Trump who argues that people should boycott Apple for refusing to cooperate with law enforcement) while at the same time giving some enlightening perspective. Although he made it clear that he did very much see the value in protecting civil liberties, Mr Obama did also talk about the importance of security agencies being able to”apprehend the child pornographer” or even “solve or disrupt a terrorist plot”. Overall, his stance shows that the fight between Apple and the FBI is a close one. Though, in a couple of weeks, both will be arguing their cases in court, which may give a better indication as to who is more likely to come out on top in the end, as court judges analyse their arguments. In the meantime, Mr Obama may either be engaging in talks behind closed doors with the tech giant to come to some sort of consensus or perhaps be carefully waiting for the scales to eventually tip before committing himself to a particular side.

The President, with all his influence and importance, seems to have reserved his opinion, for now, portraying the Apple and FBI conflict as a very closely fought contest. Thus, America, and indeed the rest of the world, remain split on the issue.