President Barack Obama announced his intent to expand cooperation with the United Kingdom in battling cyberthreats during a joint media availability today with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House.
The expanded collaboration will be aimed at protecting critical infrastructure, businesses and privacy from cyberattacks, Obama said. While there is heightened attention to terror threats in the wake of the attacks in Paris, the president said, threat streams have remained fairly constant over the past six years.
“So I don’t think this is a situation in which because things are so much more dangerous, the pendulum needs to swing,” he said. “I think what we have to find is a consistent framework whereby our publics have confidence that their government can both protect them, but not abuse our capacity to operate in cyberspace.”
Closing Terrorist ‘Safe Havens’
The collaboration shouldn’t be thought of as a new doctrine, Cameron said. “Ever since we’ve been sending letters to each other or making telephone calls to each other or mobile phone calls to each other or, indeed, contacting each other on the Internet, it has been possible in both our countries in extremis … to potentially listen to a call between two terrorists, to stop them in their activity,” he said.
“We’re not asking for back doors … As technology develops, as the world moves on, we should try to avoid the safe havens that could otherwise be created for terrorists to talk to each other,” the prime minister added.
Wiretap laws in both countries need to be updated to reflect the technology of today, Obama said.
“How we do that needs to be debated both here in the United States and in the U.K. I think we’re getting better at it, I think we’re striking the balance better,” the president said. “I think that companies here in the United States at least recognize that they have a responsibility to the public, but also want to make sure that they’re meeting their responsibilities to their customers that are using their products.”
Discussions between the private sector and the U.S. and U.K. governments center on ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence officers can identify and track actual threats without invading people’s privacy, Obama said.
“The technologies are evolving in ways that potentially make this trickier,” he said. “If we get into a situation in which the technologies do not allow us at all to track somebody that we’re confident is a terrorist … and, despite knowing that information, despite having a phone number or despite having a social media address or an e-mail address, that we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem.”
Solving that problem will involve addressing legal and technical issues, the president said, “But overall, I’m actually confident that we can balance these imperatives and we shouldn’t feel as if because we’ve just seen such a horrific attack in Paris that suddenly everything should be thrown by the wayside.”