Why the White House is seeking Silicon Valley’s help to take on terrorism

This week, senior White House officials and some of the most prominent figures in Silicon Valley met to seek common ground on the fight to help law enforcement curb suspected terrorists using the internet and smartphones. Dawn Chmielewski, a reporter for Re/code, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Los Angeles to discuss.

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    For more than a year, FBI Director James Comey has argued American technology companies need to do more to help law enforcement combat terrorists exploiting the Internet and mobile devices to plan plots and publish propaganda.

    For example, Comey has said encryption on smartphones makes it harder to monitor communications by suspects under investigation. The companies defend encryption as a privacy tool for all customers.

    Yesterday, Comey, the attorney general, the White House counterterrorism adviser and other officials went to Silicon Valley to seek common ground.

    Joining me now from Los Angeles to discuss this summit is Dawn Chmielewski. She's a reporter for the tech news web site Re/Code.

    So, what do they talk about? Obviously, the encryption thing is front and center on the table. Is this the "agree or disagree" type of conversation?


    This was the "let's all come together and tackle an incredibly hard and deadly problem".

    Look, encryption because part of the conversation but I'm told that it was not the main, the main focus of the discussion, which took place over the course of two hours, and undisclosed location in San Jose.

    What I'm told is that the government wanted to take the opportunity to meet with executives in Silicon Valley to sort of weigh out the scope of the problem, and how ISIS and other extremists are using social networks and encryption to try to recruit members and immobilize — mobilize people into committing attacks against the country.

    I think there was much time devoted to creating a common understanding of what the problem was, and then talk first about how the government was trying to sort of put its own house in order because obviously we had the recent attack in San Bernardino that the government was not aware of. So, it's trying to get its own house in order first.


    Who was at the meeting from the tech side?


    So, we understand that Sheryl Sandberg was there, that's the chief executive officer of Facebook, and also Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive officer, and we know that there was some discussion about how Facebook actually is — deals with violent threats that are made on its platform.

    I mean, remember, Facebook reaches more than a billion people around the world and it tries to be really diligent in dealing with threats or threats of violence, when people use its platform for that. But it's trying to figure out how to manage that and not — not act as a censor, you know, not try to — not proactively go out to take things down until it's reported by users as being abusive.


    All right. So, you've got Tim Cook from Apple. You've got Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. You've got these tech heavyweights and really on the administration side of the table they have some street cred with the people on their side as well.


    Yes, exactly. So, Megan Smith, who's the nation's chief technology officer, came from Google, she ran a number of units at Google. She has some serious cred, and all those executives from Twitter, long time executives with Twitter. Ed Felten from Princeton who is really well-regarded within the tech community, someone who is knowledgeable about privacy and other issues.

    So, these are some pretty heavy hitters who are also at the table and they speak Silicon Valley's language. And the goal here at this meeting is to try to find some common ground in an issue that's really contentious.


    All right. Dawn Chmielewski from the website Re/code — thanks so much for joining us.


    Thank you.

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