As a showdown looms between Apple and the FBI over encryption and backdoors, the debate has made its way onto the campaign trail as a surprisingly bipartisan issue.
Almost universally, the candidates agree on at least one thing: The US government needs backdoors.
In fact, only one candidate, Marco Rubio, seemed to allow for any nuance on the issue. It's a surprising imbalance, given that many of the biggest names in tech generally agree backdoors ultimately weaken security for everyone.
In fact, Jeb Bush argues that the National Security Agency should be put in charge of all civilian encryption, an idea that many in the technology and security industries would likely find a little unsettling.
In a recent, very unscientific IT Pro poll, 85% of respondents backed Apple's stance on not backdooring their own hardware. Read below for each of the candidates' public statements on the issue, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job — while protecting civil liberties — to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.
Bush: If you can encrypt messages, ISIS can, over these platforms, and we have no ability to have a cooperative relationship —
Moderator: Do you ask or do you order?
Bush: Well, if the law would change, yeah. But I think there has to be recognition that if we — if we are too punitive, then you’ll go to other — other technology companies outside the United States. And what we want to do is to control this. We also want to dominate this from a commercial side. So there’s a lot of balanced interests. But the president leads in this regard. That’s what we need. We need leadership, someone who has a backbone and sticks with things, rather than just talks about them as though anything matters when you’re talking about amendments that don’t even actually are part of a bill that ever passed.
Moderator: Do you think Apple should be forced to do that, because Apple says that's going to violate not only privacy rights, but it's going to make everybody's cell phone vulnerable, potentially, to hackers.
CARSON: Sure. Well, you know, the interesting thing is I think that Apple and probably a lot of other people don’t the privacy rights but it's going to make everybody's cell-phone vulnerable potentially to hackers.
Well you know, the interesting thing is I think that Apple and probably a lot of other people don't necessarily trust the government these days. There is probably a very good reason for people not to trust the government but we're going to have to get over that because right now we're faced with tremendous threats and individual radical jihadist who want destroy us. And we're going to have to weigh these things one against the other.
I believe what we need is a public private partnership when it comes to all of these technical things and cyber-security because we're all at risk in a very significant way. So it's going to be a matter of people learning to trust each other which means, Apple needs to sit down with those trustworthy in the government. And that may have wait until the next election, I don't know but we'll see. They need to sit down with people they can trust and hammer out the relationship.
I would not want to go to that point. I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they're not adversaries, they've got to be partners.
It doesn't do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after. There must be some way. I don't know enough about the technology, Martha, to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts.
Well, listen. I think Apple has a serious argument that they should not be forced to put a backdoor in every cell phone everyone has. That creates a real security exposure for hackers, cyber criminals to break into our cell phones. So, I think Apple has the right side on the global don't make us do this to every iPhone on the market.
But, I think law enforcement has the better argument. This concerns the phone of one of the San Bernardino hackers, and for law enforcement to get a judicial search order, that's consistent with the Fourth Amendment. That's how the bill of rights operates.
To say, Apple, open this phone. Not Anderson's phone...… law enforcement has the better argument. This concerns the phone of one of the San Bernardino hackers. And for law enforcement to get a judicial search order, that's consistent with the Fourth Amendment. That how the Bill of Rights operates.
“There is a big problem, it’s called encryption. The people in San Bernardino were communicating with people who the FBI had been watching, but because their phone was encrypted, because intelligence officials could not see who they were talking to, it was lost. … We need to be able to penetrate these people when they’re involved in these plots and these plans, and we have to give the local authorities the ability to penetrate in this route. Encryption is a major problem and Congress has got to deal with this, and so does the president, to keep us safe.”
It's a very very complicated issue and I'll you why, it's about encryption. Today, there's encryption out, I think it's standard on the new Apple and what it does is it protects your privacy. If you lose your Ipad, if you lose your phone; no one can hack into and get your information. So that's why it's there.
Here's the thing though, if you require by law – if we passed a law that required Apple and these companies to create a backdoor, number one, criminals could figure that out and use it against you. And number two, there's already encrypted software that exists, not only now but in the future created in other countries. We would not be able to stop that.
So there would still be encryption capabilities, it just wouldn't be American encryption capabilities but people in this country could have it. So that's why this is such a difficult issue because on the flip-side of it, there might be valuable information on that phone from the San Bernardino killers that could lead us to preventing future crimes or future attacks – future terrorist attacks.
So I think we're either going to have a figure a way forward by working with Silicon Valley and the tech industry on this. There has to be a way to deal with this issue that continues to protect the privacy of Americans or creates some process by which, law enforcement and intelligence agencies could access encrypted information.
I don't have a magic solution for it today. It's complicated, it's a new issue that's emerged just in the last couple of years. But I do know this, it will take a partnership between the technology industry and the government to confront and solve this. ...
If you create a backdoor, there is a very reasonable possibility that a criminal gang could figure out what the backdoor is. That possibility is – if you create a backdoor, you're creating a vulnerability. And what you're not going to chance is the fact that other companies around the world who are not subject to U.S. laws – they could create encryption technology that we'll never be able to get access to.
So it's not as simple as people think it is. Now Apple is under court order and I'm sure they're going to appeal it. They need to follow whatever the court order is ultimately.
But moving forward, we are going to have to work with Silicon Valley. We're going to have to with the tech Industry to figure out a way forward on encryption that allows us some capability to access information especially in an emergency circumstances where there might be information on there that could prevent a terrorist attack.
Sanders: You would all be amazed, or maybe not, about the amount of information private companies and the government has in terms of the Web sites that you access, the products that you buy, where you are this very moment.
Sanders: And it is very clear to me that public policy has not caught up with the explosion of technology. So yes, we have to work with Silicon Valley to make sure that we do not allow ISIS to transmit information...
Moderator: But in terms of lone wolves, the threat, how would you do it?
Sanders: Right. What we have got to do there is, among other things, as I was just saying, have Silicon Valley help us to make sure that information being transmitted through the Internet or in other ways by ISIS is, in fact, discovered. But I do believe we can do that without violating the constitutional and privacy rights of the American people.
I think it's disgraceful that Apple is not helping on that. I think security first and I feel -- I always felt security first. Apple should absolutely -- we should force them to do it. We should do whatever we have to do and I guess he wants to be a good liberal and he doesn't want to give the information.
But we -- on that -- as an example, those two people killed 14 people. There were other people that saw the bombs laying all over the flu system (ph) like a normal apartment. You had bombs laying all over the floor. You had all sorts of ammunition. You had all sorts of everything in that apartment.
People knew that. I'd like to know who else knew it because they're almost as guilty and maybe just as guilty. I think you have to be able to correct that and I think Apple is absolutely in the wrong.