How hard can it be to kick terrorists off the web? Tech bosses, US govt bods thrash it out

Uncle Sam wants to cut these Daesh-bags off from social networks, encryption

Shouting match

Senior US government executives and Silicon Valley's tech captains are sitting down together in San Jose, California, on Friday to try and sort out a way to combat terrorism online.

The meeting, will include Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, as well as senior White House officials.

On the technology front, Apple's big boss Tim Cook is expected to attend, along with senior management from Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Dropbox. On the agenda are talks to find ways to block Daesh and other terror groups from using the internet to recruit members, and encryption.

The technology firms' representatives will receive unclassified background on terrorist use of technology, including encryption, and a full and frank exchange of views is expected. The summit was originally intended to discuss the use of social media, but the FBI's Comey insisted encryption be put on the agenda.

Comey has a real problem with encryption, since Google and Apple started making it the default option on their smartphones. He has made wild accusations that law enforcement is being stymied by this in investigations, and has accused tech firms of putting children's lives in danger and making life easier for terrorists.

Silicon Valley's response is simple: they introduced encryption because customers wanted it in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations about exactly how far the state was prying into people's privacy. They also know that no one's going to buy a phone that has been backdoored by the Feds.

Don't expect much in the way of progress from these meetings on the encryption front. Law enforcement has a set series of demands and won't settle for anything less than full access to encrypted communications as and when it wants them.

From the technologists' perspective, nothing's going to change either. It's mathematically impossible to break an encryption system with a backdoor and then expect no one else to find it, as we saw with the case of Juniper Networks and the NSA recently.

There might be more progress in getting an agreement on how to limit Daesh's use of social media to recruit new members. There is already pending legislation to force social media companies to call the police if potential terrorist activity is spotted online, but firms are wary of both customer response to this, and of overloading the police with false positives. ®

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