At the tail end of a sixth Republican presidential debate, dominated by personal feuds and mutual condemnation of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush made a stunning proposal: Put the NSA in charge of civilian data and cybersecurity.
The proposal, which represents a major expansion of the intelligence agency's role, shocked some observers on Twitter, with some calling it akin to a "police state."
When asked by Fox Business moderator Neil Cavuto about Apple CEO Tim Cook's strong opposition to White House requests for a backdoor to encryption, Bush said that he would have meetings with executives in Silicon Valley to get them to change their minds.
"What if Tim Cook is telling you ‘no, Mr. President’?" Cavuto asked. Jeb replied: "You keep asking." His response was roundly mocked on Twitter:
Bush also suggested offering tech companies "liability relief so that if they share data, they're not fearful of a lawsuit." And he went further, alarming some observers when he said about cybersecurity: "We should put the NSA in charge of the civilian side of this and we need much more cooperation with our private sector."
Last week, top Obama administration officials traveled to San Jose to meet with tech executives. And Cook reportedly criticized the White House for not protecting Americans' rights to keep their digital lives private and demanded that the administration publicly defend the use of unbreakable encryption. Law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey, have instead supported the idea of creating a backdoor into encrypted communications, by arguing that terrorists and criminals are able to evade surveillance by using encrypted messages.