Quoted: President Obama on patriotic tech companies

“They’re patriots.”

President Obama, on tech companies. The president said Silicon Valley companies want to help the government “solve the problem” of accessing the communications of terrorism suspects — despite recent moves by tech companies to protect user privacy by stepping up encryption efforts. Obama made his comments Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron at his side. Cameron last week said he wanted to ban messaging apps that use encryption, because governments wouldn’t be able to get the user data they need in terrorism investigations. (As we wrote, security experts called the idea crazy, citing security concerns if workarounds to encryption were to be introduced.)

The Wall Street Journal notes that Friday was the first time the president spoke publicly about the topic. Our own Michelle Quinn wrote last year that the U.S. government and Silicon Valley were headed for a showdown over encryption after Apple and Google announced that they would encrypt the data on smartphones. Among the government officials who have voiced their concern about the default encryption: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, as well as former NSA and FBI officials. Said Comey, in September: “[Tech companies] are marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

Why the “marketing”? Tech companies have been working to retain their users’ trust in the post-Edward Snowden world, after revelations that the NSA engaged in mass spying by, among other things, accessing Internet companies’ user information. The companies have denied giving the government direct access to that information.

“Just as governments have a duty to protect the public from threats, Internet services have a duty to our users to ensure the security and privacy of their data,” said Michael Beckerman, the head of the Internet Association, in a statement ahead of the joint press conference, according to Hillicon Valley.

Photo: President Obama in Washington in 2013. (Associated Press)


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