Hillary Clinton Wants A "Manhattan-like Project" To Break Encryption On Your Smartphone

Jayce Wagner

While the Democratic debate on Saturday tread familiar territory -- with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton throwing barbs at each other and reiterating their talking points -- one moment stood out for Edward Snowden, a government whistleblower and former NSA contractor.

The moment came when Hillary Clinton was responding to a question from moderator Martha Raddatz regarding encryption tools used by ISIS and other terror organizations to conceal their communications.

"You've talked a lot about bringing tech leaders and government officials together, but Apple CEO Tim Cook said removing encryption tools from our products altogether would only hurt law-abiding citizens who rely on us to protect their data. So would you force him to give law enforcement a key to encrypted technology by making it law?" Raddatz asked Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton claims Donald Trump Is ISIS' "best recruiter" during Democratic debate https://t.co/UsWncwqCuF pic.twitter.com/EMRsq8GEx8

— People magazine (@people) December 20, 2015

Secretary Clinton backed away from the issue, tempering her stance by suggesting that a government backdoor into encryption services might not be the right plan, reports Ars Technica.

"Maybe the back door is the wrong door, and I understand what Apple and other are saying about that, but the U.S. has to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety. Otherwise law enforcement is blind – blind before, blind during and unfortunately, in many instances blind after," Clinton replied.

She continued to describe what she terms a "Manhattan-like" project, a combined effort between government officials and tech communities to provide some method of breaking any consumer-available encryption in the name of national security.

"I would hope that, given the extra ordinary 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 tech communities together to see they're not adversaries, they've got to be partners," Hillary Clinton told moderator Martha Raddatz during the debate on CBS.

It's not a popular plan in Silicon Valley, where concerns over privacy are more than just a speedbump to be overcome by law enforcement.

"On your smartphone today, there's likely health information, there's financial information, there are intimate conversations with your family, or your co-workers. There are probably business secrets and you should have the ability to protect them. If there's a way to get in, then somebody will find the way in," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in response to suggestions that government should have a back door into encryption services.

Tech companies like Apple have resisted the idea of a governmental back door for years, particularly after information was released by Edward Snowden in 2013. Silicon Valley firms rely on powerful encryption to keep user data safe from hackers, cyberterror, and even the government.

"I don't know enough about the technology, Martha, to be able to say what [the solution] is," Hillary Clinton offered, after suggesting her cryptographic Manhattan project.

"The reality is, if you put a back door in, that back door's for everybody, for good guys and bad guys. In the case of encrypted communication the U.S. doesn't need to make a tradeoff between privacy and national security. I think that's an overly simplistic view. We're America, we should have both," Tim Cook told CBS News last night.

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— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) December 20, 2015

Hillary Clinton's proposal has been met with some derision from Silicon Valley insiders, like Marc Andreessen a top venture capitalist, who suggests that the proposal is preposterous – an outlandish fantasy.

Hillary Clinton's Manhattan project proposal comes as a sneaky addition to the omnibus spending bill that was just signed into law, a cyber security bill that tech firms have been fighting for years was shoehorned into the $1 trillion budget bill at the last minute. And now, it's the law.

"The language of the bill is so broad that it could undermine existing privacy laws. Even the Department of Homeland Security said [the bill] could undermine the Stored Communications Act, which protects personal data from undue government prying," said Kate Knibbs of Gizmodo.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]