In President Obama’s prime-time address from the Oval Office—just his third in seven years—he struck a reassuring tone, reiterating his commitment to battling the Islamic State and calling for tolerance toward Muslim communities at home.
In the speech, the president called on Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against Islamic State terrorists, to enact a basic gun-control proposal, and to work out a system for stringent background checks for U.S. visas.
But there was another policy proposal Obama mentioned briefly, which could have serious consequences for the way Americans use technology.
After Obama outlined his four-step plan to fight the Islamic State, he said:
[W]e constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That’s why I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa-waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country. And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law-enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.
With that last sentence, Obama seemed to allude to a long-simmering debate between the U.S. technology industry and law-enforcement officials over encryption—and he seemed to hint that he was finally choosing a side.
Officials have long feared that terrorists are planning attacks via encrypted messages to avoid detection. Led by the FBI Director James Comey, members of the Obama administration have called on American technology leaders to make it easier for…