Hot air from Washington on encryption (and a rather chaotic summit on extremism)

US president Barack Obama has been expected to present his policy on encryption for some time now. And, finally, he did. Kind of. Or not.

Ars Technica reports…

“I think the only concern is… our law enforcement is expected to stop every plot. Every attack. Any bomb on a plane. The first time that attack takes place, where it turns out we had a lead and couldn’t follow up on it, the public’s going to demand answers. This is a public conversation that we should be having,” Obama said in a Friday interview with Re/Code. “I lean probably further in the direction of strong encryption than some do inside law enforcement. But I am sympathetic to law enforcement, because I know the kind of pressure they’re under to keep us safe. And it’s not as black and white as it’s sometimes portrayed. Now, in fairness, I think those in favor of air tight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists.”

See the interview at Re/Code here. »

Another presidential quote…

“One of the interesting things about being in this job, is that it does give you a bird’s-eye view. You are smack dab in the middle of these tensions that exist. But, there are times where folks who see this through a civil liberties or privacy lens reject that there’s any tradeoffs involved. And, in fact, there are. And you’ve got to own the fact that it may be that we want to value privacy and civil liberties far more than we do the safety issues. But we can’t pretend that there are no tradeoffs whatsoever.”

The man is clearly stalling.

So what about the international security summit in Washington this week? Well, it seems to have changed in nature towards something more of a high level conference on extremism — to smooth over the fact that President Obama didn’t go to Paris after the terroris attacks. The BBC reports…

Still the planning seems a bit chaotic. Invitations to the summit went out to foreign embassies on 29 January, a State Department official told me.

At an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington on the following day, European officials said they still weren’t sure which minister would be appropriate to send to Washington.

Even those who are passionate about the goals of the summit – combating violent extremism – wonder about the optics – a term the Washington political class use to describe how an event is perceived.

In the end, it all boiled down to being a back drop for president Obama to deliver yet another very Kum Ba Yah speech.

The trip to Washington did however provide an opportunity for a plethora of meetings between EU and US politicians and security officials. Which is probably where all the interesting stuff went on. The stuff the general public is not supposed to know about — yet.


The Obama interview at Re/Code »
Ars Technica: Obama hedges position on encryption. It’s good. It’s bad. »
Slate: Tech Whiplash: Obama Endorses, Then Undermines, Encryption »
BBC: Extremism summit: Too little, too late, too chaotic? »
White House: Remarks by the President in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism »
Breitbart: Extremists Attending Obama’s ‘Countering Extremism’ Summit »

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