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Apple’s iPhone: a Swiss Bank Account in Your Pocket

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in an onstage interview at the South by Southwest Interactive in AustinU.S. President Barack Obama participates in an onstage interview at the South by Southwest Interactive in Austin
U.S. President Barack Obama onstage at the South by Southwest conference in Austin.© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters REUTERS

In his remarks about strong encryption at SXSW, President Obama last week hit the trifecta of law enforcement bogeymen: terrorists, kidnappers, and child pornographers. Who could object to the police rifling through someone’s underwear drawer, as the president put it, if the safety of a child is at risk?

Then he got to the nub of it: Money and taxes.

“If technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system…what mechanisms do we have available that even do simple things like tax enforcement? Because if in fact you can’t crack that at all, and government can’t get in, then everybody’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket.”

With that, the president may have gone a step too far.

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Few Americans will come to the defense of a terrorist or child pornographer. But 150 million U.S. citizens file tax returns every year, and the idea of Internal Revenue Service agents rifling through their bedroom drawers is not likely to appeal.

Although Swiss bank accounts aren’t what they used to be in terms of tax havens, they’re not illegal. Neither are Apple’s (AAPL) iPhones. At least not yet.