U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed his support for law enforcement agencies in their ongoing battle against tech companies over the issue of encryption. He pointed out that authorities should be given access to data on electronic devices when it comes to investigating matters of national security.

Obama made the comments during his speech at the South by Southwest technological festival in Austin, Texas on Friday. It is considered to be his most extensive statement to date on an issue that has divided even the president's own top officials.

Tech giant Apple continues to defy calls from the Justice Department to help it access an iPhone that is believed to be owned by one of the gunmen involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December. The company argues that unlocking the smartphone would violate the right of individuals to protect their personal privacy.

Apple has made itself clear that it will not comply with the government's request, arguing that Congress has not given the Justice Department any authority to make such a demand.

Other leading tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, have shown their support for the iPhone maker regarding the matter.

While Obama reiterated that he remains committed to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of the American people, he said there should also be a balance that would allow law enforcement agencies some degree of intrusion if needed.

"If technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there's no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?" the president said.

Obama also raised the question about the possibility of using encryption to deter the efforts of authorities to enforce tax laws.

The president acknowledged that there is some skepticism toward the government, especially after former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed various surveillance programs being conducted in the United States.

Obama, however, stressed that a compromise should be established where the security of the nation is still upheld without violating the civil liberties of its people.

He said this could mean the creation of a strong encryption system that can be accessed by only a small number of people and under circumstances that are deemed important by everyone involved.

"Setting aside the specific case between the FBI and Apple ... we're going to have to make some decisions about how do we balance these respective risks," the president said. "My conclusion so far is you cannot take an absolutist view."

Photo : U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr 

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