President Barack Obama at SXSW: It’s ‘Easier to Order a Pizza Than Vote’

Austin, Texas — President Barack Obama appeared relaxed and unscripted during a 45-minute conversation on Friday afternoon at South by Southwest about the role technology plays in civil engagement.

The president also addressed the hot button issue of whether the U.S. government should be allowed to search private citizens’ smartphones in criminal cases.

“I anguish a lot over decisions we make to keep the country safe,” Obama said. “I would caution against taking an absolutist perspective.”

While Obama wouldn’t directly comment on the recent Department of Justice court battle with Apple over accessing information on an iPhone in the San Bernardino, Calif. shootings, the president suggested there should be situations where phones could be surveyed.

“All of us value our privacy,” Obama said. “Before smartphones were invented and to this day, if there’s probable cause to think you abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of a serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep” with a warrant, he explained.

“I am of the view there are real reasons we should make sure government can’t willy-nilly get in everyone’s iPhone,” the president continued. “The whole Snowden disclosure episode elevated people’s suspicions of this. So does popular culture, which makes it appear I’m in the [Situation Room],” monitoring private exchanges.

He outlined what would happen if the government couldn’t access digital communications. “The question we have to ask is if technologically it’s possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong there’s no key, there’s no door at all, then how we do apprehend the child pornographer?” Obama asked. “How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to do even simple things like tax enforcement?” He added: “There has to be some concessions to get into that information.”

Obama was the first sitting president in SXSW’s 30-year history to appear at the film, music and interactive gathering. Earlier in his conversation with Evan Smith, the CEO of The Texas Tribune, Obama questioned what role technology can play in helping citizens vote.

“We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote,” Obama said. “You’re laughing, but it’s sad.” Obama noted that it was “easier to order a pizza than vote. How do we redesign our systems so we don’t have 50% voter participation?” he asked.

He went on to say that online voting systems are not necessarily unsecure. “The folks who are governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate,” he told the Austin crowd.

Obama acknowledged that the federal government wasn’t always synonymous with technological progress, joking that he sometimes struggled to get an Internet connection at the White House. “You may recall that I passed this law called the Affordable Care Act, and then the Web site didn’t work,” Obama said. “This was embarrassing to me,” he said, adding that his 2008 campaign for the office focused on “cool technology and social media.”

He spoke about how private citizens needed to engage in technology to help influence change, saying that he met on Friday with entrepreneurs and filmmakers about ways in which they can fight back against ISIL’s recruitment techniques of demonizing the West.

Obama, who wasn’t wearing a tie, joked about picking up tacos from a local Austin eatery before the event. He wasn’t speaking from a script, and defended the legacy of his two terms in the Oval Office. “One of the things that the left and right agreed on is that after the financial crisis, nothing changed,” Obama said. “The truth of the matter is a lot changed.” He added, “The financial system is much more stable than it used to be,” and blamed “popular culture and media” for not reflecting that.

“In an age where people’s attention spans have shrunk, it’s critical of all of you … how are we getting citizens engaged?” he asked.

As Smith tried to wrap up, Obama said that he needed another minute to highlight his message about civic responsibility. “We need you,” he said. “I want to underscore the fact that in 10 months, I won’t have this office. It’s been the great privilege of my life. It’s not like I stop caring about the things I care about right now. I expect you to step up and get involved.”

Obama was SXSW’s keynote interactive speaker. First Lady Michelle Obama will be the opening keynote speaker at SXSW Music on March 16, where she’ll discuss the Let Girls Learn initiative. Other speakers include J.J. Abrams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kerry Washington, Ellen Page, Don Cheadle and Joel Edgerton.

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  1. Renaud Kilian says:

    Obama is mislead on the Online voting as the only way to make it reliable is to sacrifice anonymity of the voter at some level.

  2. I think it’s wonderful her went to SXSW. He is so cool, and he really cares about us.

  3. Bill says:

    Despite all he has been through, somehow he still seems to be enjoying himself. Good for him. I will miss fine man and his wife. Shame on those who don’t appreciate all the progress he has made despite the mad as a hatter right wing’s attempts to block any change or progress. There is a reason in the past 20 years only one Republican candidate for President has received the majority of the public’s vote in the general election.

  4. V (@Alkarie) says:

    Yes Mr President, because voting for our government leaders is about as important as ordering a pizza…

  5. Beckwith says:

    Obama is just pissed that he wasn’t able to join the other radical leftists at the Trump rally.

  6. His ignorance is astounding. The dumbest politician I have ever witnessed.

    • SprechenSieDouche says:

      What are you talking about? This guy came from a mixed race background with parents who basically lived for themselves and dumped him with his white grandparents and he excelled in a mostly asian society, then he got his juris doctorate from Harvard and worked for a dozen years as a lawyer and Constitutional Law professor. Then he won TWO presidential elections against the united opposition of white conservatives and dynastic democrats. YOU are the one who is ignorant. I’m SICK of IDIOTS like you having an equal voice to the intelligent and reasonable.

  7. PJ says:

    and that’s how it should be!

  8. Steinman says:

    Because it’s more important than Former “First Lady” Nancy Reagan’s Funeral. Let me guess, did he talk about how black actors matters?

    • SprechenSieDouche says:

      Would you have liked him a single iota more if he’d gone to Mrs. Reagan’s funeral? No. You and your ilk would have politicized it and said some kind of horrible garbage about him. This man cannot win with people like you. But the people he was speaking to are the future of this country, while you are it’s garbage past.

  9. Richard Morey says:

    Of course its easier to order a pizza because nobody cares if you order 1 or 20 pizzas.

  10. Richard Morey says:

    If private companies can create secure encryption that the government can’t “hack” into then tough nookies. Maybe it’s time the government spent money on technology to provide online voting and not on bloated bureaucracy.

  11. Nanny Mo says:

    And he wants to give the Internet away to foreigners. Just how does that help him lead America? Just how will that help American industry and filmmakers? Do content creators in the U.S. want France telling us what to do? Thanks a lot, Mr. Prez.

  12. Alexander says:

    Spoken like a person who has never ordered a pizza or actually voted. Could he be MORE out of touch with reality?

  13. Rory says:

    I nominate Obama for acting like a bad President for the last 7 1/2 years and Racebaiting the country into total division!

  14. It is total BS that it’s easier to order a pizza than vote. To order a pizza you have to offer some sign you will pay-either a credit card or an address known to the shop. You have to live within the delivery area. You have to demonstrate you are worthy by not mugging the delivery guy. To vote all you have to do is fill out a form and get a free ID card. Wow. Not hard at all. The only people who don’t want to do this are those who have either been voting illegally or scamming other government systems. Without an ID you can’t cash a check, buy liquor, use a credit card or pick you child up at daycare. If my 85 year old mother can get one, so can some lowlife who wants to complain and be a victim. Perhaps this has more to do with election fraud and the way some politicians use it than anything else.

    • Richard Morey says:

      I’ve lived in New York State my entire life – 40 plus years – and despite my best efforts to properly notify the various election boards as to my current County of residence I have more times than not been able to vote in multiple districts. I have not needed to provide an ID but even if I had I could have shown up at both polling places an voted. (I never voted more th an once in any given year) The problem is that underlying voter registration infrastructure. Look at my other comment about a sibling who lives in Colorado but who has never been removed from the voter rolls in NY State.

  15. David says:

    Shouldn’t it be harder to vote than order a pizza? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the legitimacy of our elections than whether we want extra cheese from Dominos?

  16. AtillaThehun says:

    What an arrogant jackass. Given the lack of voter ID requirements in many states, the whole system is insecure now. We really don’t know who’s voting now. When a precinct goes 100 percent for Obama, with more votes recorded than there were registered voters, you have to wonder. And, as it turns out, he’s not the cool president. The guy couldn’t spell URL if you spotted him the U and the R.

    • smith says:

      Keep up those hate radio and fox talking points!

      • Beckwith says:

        Are you really as dumb as your comment indicates?

      • Richard Morey says:

        Voter ID laws disproportionately effect minorities. But local election boards are totally useless. My father passed away in January of 2014 but was sent an absentee ballot and I’m sure he’ll be sent another one this year. My sibling has lived and voted in Colorado for over a decade but she is still registered to vote in NY State. Those kind of data gaps are far more likely to lead to voter fraud than requiring ID would prevent.

      • Koching Around W/ O-Zombies says:

        Why then do we have Background checks to buy $ guns? But nothing as strict for Illegal Aliens voting illegally? Why does Obama, and Hillary fight VOTER ID LAWS? This is hypocritical. You should apply the LAW EQUALLY = for voting and the same for buying a gun! Nowhere in the Constitution does it say Illegal Aliens have voting rights! But it does say “Shall Not Be Infringed” for owning a GUN!

        Look at Kim Davis. She did nothing wrong. There is no Same-Sex Marriage Amendment in the Constitution! Just SCJ Usurpers hell bent on Gay Rights!

        Go on a worship Obama. Who loves Radical Muslims more than you! And the Koch Bros. told me to tell you that! LOL

      • Himeh says:

        Typical of industry, can’t take a joke.

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