Obama: cryptographers who don’t believe in magic ponies are “fetishists,” “absolutists”
Obama’s SXSW appearance included the president’s stupidest-ever remarks on cryptography: he characterized cryptographers’ insistence that there is no way to make working cryptography that stops working when the government needs it to as “phone fetishizing,” as opposed to, you know, reality.
In a rhetorical move that he would have flunked his U Chicago law students for, Obama described a landscape with two edges: “Strong crypto” and “No crypto” and declared that in the middle was a reasonable territory in which crypto could strong sometimes and disappear the rest of the time.
This is like the territory in which you are “Pregnant” or “Not pregnant” where, in between, you are “a little bit pregnant” (or, of course, like “Vaccinations are safe,” vs “Vaccinations cause autism” whose middle ground is “Vaccinations are safe, but just to be sure, let’s not give ‘too many’ at once, because reasons, and nevermind that this will drastically increase cost and complexity and reduce compliance”).
Obama conflated cryptographers’ insistence that his plan was technically impossible with the position that government should never be able to serve court orders on its citizens. This math denialism, the alternative medicine of information security.
He focused his argument on the desirability of having crypto that worked in this impossible way, another cheap rhetorical trick. Wanting it badly isn’t enough.
If decades of attending SXSW (I leave for the airport in 30 minutes!) has taught me anything, it’s that someone will be selling or giving away “phone fetishist” tees with PGP sourcecode on one side and a magic pony on the other before the week is out.