FBI, NSA seek tech firms' help in war on terror at Silicon Valley meeting

U.S. government wants firms to help it monitor terrorist communications and counter propaganda

Tim
Apple CEO Tim Cook at an October, 2012, Apple product launch Credit: Jason Snell

It's no secret that the U.S. government wants the tech industry's help in waging its war on terror.

What has been a secret, up till now, is the exact agenda of a meeting between technology executives and government officials, to be held in Silicon Valley later on Friday.

The government will seek help in thwarting recruitment and countering propaganda, and measuring its success in doing so. It will also ask the industry to help law enforcers and intelligence services identify terrorists and prevent their attacks, according to The Guardian, which published a copy of the agenda Friday.

On the government side, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough will be accompanied by National Security Agency chair Admiral Mike Rogers, director of national intelligence James Clapper, and Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, the newspaper reported.

It's the fourth talking point on the government's agenda that's likely to prove the most controversial. The FBI has called for a halt to effective end-to-end encryption in messaging services, so that it can more easily eavesdrop on communications.

The industry has repeatedly pointed out that building backdoors into encryption systems is bad for everyone, not just terrorists.

Comey said in December that he's not calling for a backdoor, but for industry to find ways to voluntarily hand over encryption keys.

Industry invitees are said to include representatives from Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube, The Guardian said.

For companies like Apple that offer messaging services with end-to-end encryption, storing the keys only on the user's device, handing over the key is not an option. Changing the software so that they could access the key on demand would be akin to building in a backdoor.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been especially critical of claims that we need to trade privacy for security.

The meeting is scheduled to conclude with questions from industry representatives and a discussion of the next steps to be taken.

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