- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2016

Ohio Gov. John Kasich punted when asked about smartphone encryption during Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate, deferring a national security question on law enforcement’s “going dark” problem to the very office he’s vying for.

Concerns persist that terrorists are able to evade authorities by communicating in secret with strong end-to-end encryption, now a standard feature on millions of commercially sold smartphones. So Mr. Kasich was asked during the debate if he agrees with computer scientists who fear enabling any sort of “backdoor” access for authorities would inevitably be exploited.

“They say that this is going to cause more security problems than it would solve for everyday Americans. Are they wrong?” asked Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly.

The presidential candidate was quick to admit he believes law enforcement needs the resources and tools that allow investigators to monitor terrorist communications, but he stopped short of offering any solution and soon after switched gears.

“It’s best not to talk anymore about backdoors and encryption,” Mr. Kasich told the moderator. “It’ll get solved, but it needs to be solved in the Situation Room with the technology folks.”

“But this is public testimony,” Ms. Kelly pressed on. Her efforts to keep the conversation on track was rejected, however, but not before Mr. Kasich outright refused to offer his opinion from the debate stage.

“It’s best with some of these things, not to be said,” Mr. Kasich added before turning instead to the topic of military policy.

Just Security, a blog based out of the the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law, described Mr. Kasich’s response to the encryption question as “bizarre.”

“[A]sking Kasich about encryption is like asking a dog about an iPad,” tweeted Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Fellows In Journalism at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative think-tank.

Yet while the White House may be destined to solve the so-called “going dark” problem, as far as the Ohio governor is concerned, the Obama administration said recently that it won’t be pursuing legislation anytime soon that would rewrite the rules for encryption.

Congressional lawmakers, on the other hand, have taken a more proactive approach in recent weeks, with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul promising earlier this month to introduce a bill that would create a national commission to address the privacy and security concerns raised by increasingly ubiquitous encryption. 

“I do think this is one of the greatest challenges to law enforcement that I have probably seen in my lifetime,” said Mr. McCaul, Texas Republican, in a call with reporters this month. 

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