Hillary Clinton suggested that tech companies work together with the government to create a “a Manhattan-like project” at tonight’s Democratic national debate.
The Manhattan Project, if you a need a refresher, was a research and development collaboration between the US, UK, and Canada to develop weapons during World War II, culminating in the development of the atomic bomb. It was initially a secret military project. Over a hundred civilians died working on it.
Clinton also said that she did not want to force tech companies to provide back doors. “I would not want to go to that point,” Clinton said.
“Maybe the backdoor isn’t the right door,” she continued, emphasizing that she trusted Apple and other companies on the problem with the idea of encrypted tech.
“I don’t know enough about the technology to say what it is,” Clinton said. “But I have a lot of confidence.”
“I believe we should never give up our privacy,” O’Malley said, before proposing more or less exactly what Clinton said.
Calling for a Manhattan Project for tech problems isn’t anything new. Wired discussed how frequently it gets used in an article last February:
“What we really need is a Manhattan Project for cybersecurity.” It’s a sentiment that swells up every few years in the wake of some huge computer intrusion—most recently the Sony and Anthem hacks. The invocation of the legendary program that spawned the atomic bomb is telling. The Manhattan Project is America’s go-to shorthand for our deep conviction that if we gather the smartest scientists together and give them billions of dollars and a sense of urgency, we can achieve what otherwise would be impossible.
This is, however, a particularly high-profile invocation, and it’s as silly as past invocations. While it’s good that Clinton isn’t calling for a law to force tech companies to put holes in their security measures, the idea that all we need is to put our best and brightest minds together! to come up with a way to give the government special access to encrypted communications continues to ignore the tech experts who explain, over and over, that creating special access gaps for the government is not feasible without undermining security.