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Obama Asks For Tech Cooperation After Terrorist Attacks

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Silicon Valley urged to help authorities tackle militant groups using social networks and tech tools

President Obama has appealed to technology companies to help in the fight against ISIS terrorists and other extremist groups in an address to the nation at the weekend.

The speech on Sunday by Obama from Oval Office was in response to the terrorist shooting at an office party in San Bernardino, California and made clear he wants tech help in fighting terrorist groups like ISIS.

“I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice,” he said.

Tech Appeal

Obama was echoing previous comments from his government, and indeed from other governments around the world, over concerns that terrorists are increasingly using tech tools and social network to communicate and spread their propaganda.

data encryptionThe White House made it clear it wants tech firms to help by restricting the use of social media for violent ends, Reuters quoted a senior administration official as saying on Sunday.

The official indicated the White House will talk to companies in the tech sector in the coming days about developing a “clearer understanding of when we believe social media is being used actively and operationally to promote terrorism,” the official reportedly said.

Obama wants tech firms to work with law enforcement when the use of social media “crosses the line” from expressing views “into active terrorist plotting,” the official reportedly said.

“That is a deeply concerning line that we believe has to be addressed,” he said. “There are cases where we believe that individuals should not have access to social media for that purpose.”

Obama of course has made no secret of his desire to weaken encryption to make it easier for the government to monitor communications. Indeed last month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance called for weaker encryption levels on smartphones to aid in criminal investigations.

Weak Encryption

But the tech industry have been unified in their opposition. Indeed, in June a number of leading technology companies including Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Facebook wrote a strongly-worded open letter to President Obama, calling for him to respect the privacy rights of consumers by not weakening encryption systems.

The White House recently backed down on its attempt to weaken encryption systems, but the recent terrorist shooting in California by a husband and wife team has thrust the issue back into the limelight. And it is not just in America where these concerns are being raised.

Earlier this year, the chief for Europol said the increasing prevalence of encrypted Internet communications presents a major difficulty for law-enforcement and national security efforts.

US law enforcement have also complained in the past that encryption can prevent the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security from examining data during investigations. And in April the leading counter-terrorism policeman in the UK said that some tech firms are helping militants avoid detection by developing systems that are “friendly to terrorists”.

In January this year Prime Minister David Cameron said that he wanted British intelligence agencies to be able to monitor the encrypted communications of terror suspects.

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