Our Opinion: Obama wrong on encryption, right on terrorist threat
President Barack Obama's address from the Oval Office on Sunday was rational, as usual, and refreshing in some ways — particularly in assessing the complex challenges that American Muslims increasingly face in the wake of San Bernardino.
Contrast that with Donald Trump's sledgehammer rant on Monday: A call to refuse all Muslims entry to the United States.
But while the president struck just the right tone on that sensitive subject, he also dredged up a tired refrain: Let government poke through digital communications willy-nilly, he urged, and America will be safe again. Or at least safer.
For Silicon Valley, it was especially frustrating to hear Obama's use of the terrorist attack by two people who never were on law enforcement's radar as an excuse to amp-up the call for government access to any and all internet communications.
For one thing, there's no evidence to show how this kind or random eavesdropping would help. But the fundamental problem is that giving law enforcement a back door to American companies' encryption also gives every hacker a potential back door, whether terrorists or the governments of Russia and China.
It also gives customers a good reason not to buy American technology. Estimates are that National Security Agency snooping into digital files, as exposed by Edward Snowden, will cost U.S. companies billions in overseas sales.
And if Silicon Valley does open the back door that Obama, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others who ought to know better want, do we really think the terrorists we're looking for will buy American and not find alternative, secret modes of communication?
The murderous rampage of Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, is a tragedy on so many levels. Fourteen innocent people were slain, and many others' lives will never be the same. But the circumstances leading up to this grim day have their own insidious tentacles.
Farook's colleagues liked him.. Quiet, yes, but personable. He helped with IT problems. When his daughter was born, co-workers had a baby shower for him.
That this seemingly all-American Muslim man turned into a killer, with few signs visible even to family, feeds suspicion and goads those who foment fear and hatred of all Muslims — the Donald Trumps of the world. This compounds the tragedy of San Bernardino.
Obama at least tried to put that into perspective. He tried to convey the complexity of waging war not against a nation but a fanatical, murderous ideology. Americans yearn for a simple answer, but there is not one — certainly not all-out, boots on the ground war. ISIL would love that because the cost to America would be crushing.
Nor will the answer be found in taking away Americans' basic privacy rights. The president must not let the terrorism threat destroy the principles that help lead to one of the greatest technological advances of the last century — and to the freedoms we fight for today.
— San Jose Mercury News