Washington: US President Barack Obama asked Silicon Valley firms to work with US law enforcement authorities to prevent terrorists from using social media and encryption technologies, in a speech intended to reassure Americans rattled by attacks in Paris and California.
“I will urge high tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorist leaders to use technology to escape from justice," Obama said in a televized address on Sunday from the Oval Office.
The White House has already opened talks on the matter with technology companies, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The White House has expressed concern to the firms that emerging technologies, particularly encrypted communication systems that deny law enforcement the ability to monitor communications, could create a “dark space" for terrorists, the administration official said. The administration is also concerned that extremists may cross the line on social media from free expression into plotting attacks, the person said.
The official didn’t say which companies the White House had contacted.
The White House is raising its concerns with Silicon Valley after reports that terrorists may have used encrypted technology to coordinate and plan attacks in Paris on 13 November that killed 130 people. Tashfeen Malik, one of the attackers in last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, posted extremist messages including a pledge to the leader of Islamic State on a Facebook page, law enforcement authorities said.
Islamic State has published a 34-page manual for followers on avoiding detection as they communicate on the Internet, according to the Combating Terrorism Center, an independent research group at the US Military Academy at West Point. The document suggests using encrypted tools including Apple Inc.’s FaceTime and iMessage rather than regular text messaging.
The official said the White House is not reconsidering a decision in October not to seek legislation requiring technology firms to create “back doors" for the government to access encrypted communications.
Top technology firms including Apple, Google Inc., and Microsoft Inc. said building in keys for government access could create vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit. And, they argue, providing access for Western governments like the US and the UK would make it difficult to deny similar requests from China.
The technology companies also have a business concern: Firms fear they could lose out to competitors overseas who would market technologies that don’t allow for government surveillance.
The issue is a difficult one politically for Obama, who has raised money aggressively in Silicon Valley and whose electoral coalition includes millennials who, surveys show, oppose government surveillance of Internet activities. Facebook Inc. chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! Inc. chief executive officer Marissa Mayer have hosted fundraisers for the president. A number of Obama officials have left the White House for high-profile jobs at technology firms, including former press secretary Jay Carney, who now leads communications for Amazon.com Inc., and former campaign manager David Plouffe, now an adviser to Uber Technologies Inc.
The administration official said that while the US did not want its companies to be disadvantaged, the government hopes the firms will help prevent the technologies from being used in terror attacks.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner to succeed Obama in 2017, said earlier on Sunday that technology companies needed to join the fight against Islamic State.
“We’re going to need help from Facebook and from YouTube and from Twitter," the former secretary of state said during an interview on ABC’s This Week. “They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks or the celebration of violence by the sophisticated Internet user."
Facebook removed the profile that Malik used, under an alias, to pledge allegiance to Islamic State’s leader, and a company spokesperson said that it was cooperating with law enforcement authorities investigating the attack.
Clinton later told a forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington that technology firms needed to “deny online space" to terror groups. Bloomberg