Obama is now obliged to publicly address encryption

U.S. President Barack Obama. © Jonathan Ernst
Thanks to the pressure of civil liberties organizations and heavy-hitters in the tech industry, President Barack Obama will now have to publicly comment on his position on strong encryption.

The savecrypto.org petition requested the Obama administration to publicly affirm their support for strong encryption and “[r]eject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security.” It gained over 100,000 signatures in a 30-day window, the threshold needed by the White House’s ‘We the People’ platform to guarantee a response.

The call for action notes that members of Congress and the FBI want to force companies to give the government special backdoor access to user data in the form of a ‘golden key.’ This is often billed as a measure to increase the security of corporations and the country, but many in the field note that the opposite is in fact true.

“But security experts agree that it is not possible to give the government what it wants without creating vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors,” the petition reads. “These proposals jeopardize not just our private data, but the security of every technology that relies on this encryption.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a renowned privacy advocacy group, joined forces with tech companies like Twitter and Reddit to throw their weight behind the petition.

Silicon Valley has been at odds with the Obama administration over the issue of cyber encryption standards for months now. FBI Director James Comey spoken several times about the supposed need for a way to bypass end-to-end encryption for investigators. He testified earlier this month before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the White House are not yet seeking measures to force companies to build backdoors into their products, but didn’t indicate if they would at a later date.

READ MORE: FBI director lashes out at Apple, Google for encrypting smartphones

President Obama has suggested that he is leaning toward the side of law enforcement agencies.

"If we find evidence of a terrorist plot … and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem," he said in January, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Now the White House has to be more clear on encryption, but it has yet to respond to the petition.

The We the People petitioning system was implemented in 2011 to be “a clear and easy way for the American people to petition their government.” While a response is guaranteed for all petitions that reach the 100,000 signatures threshold, it’s unclear when it will be made, as some petitions don’t get addressed for several months.