US meets with tech leaders on anti-terror efforts
BRANDON BAILEY & KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
Jan. 09, 2016
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — After clashing with technology companies over encryption and government surveillance, the Obama administration adopted a friendlier tone Friday as it sought to enlist Silicon Valley's help in stopping terrorist groups from recruiting and mobilizing followers online.
The government also announced initiatives against violent extremism, including an overhaul of its efforts to counter extremist messages around the globe.
In Silicon Valley, top administration officials held a closed-door meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior executives from Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other tech firms. While the session was described by tech company representatives as cordial, no specific agreement or other outcome was announced.
"This meeting confirmed that we are united in our goal to keep terrorists and terror-promoting material off the Internet," Facebook said a statement. Spokesmen for several other companies declined comment on the meeting Friday.
A White House spokesman, meanwhile, took pains to describe tech leaders as patriotic Americans who have no interest in seeing "their tools and their technology being used to aid and abet terrorists."
Officials attending the closed-door meeting in Silicon Valley included Attorney General Loretta Lynch, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and Megan Smith, a former Google executive who is now the government's chief technology officer.
The involvement of high-level officials is a sign that the effort to counter extremist propaganda online is a top priority for the president, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He added that he did not expect a major announcement or breakthrough on Friday.
The government wants tech companies' help in stopping extremists from finding "refuge" online, while also looking for ways to "create, publish and amplify" messages that counter extremist propaganda, Earnest said.
Leading Internet companies say they remove content that violates their policies by promoting terrorism or threatening violence, but they are reluctant to infringe on free speech. They also don't want to be viewed around the world as agents of the U.S. government. And they have chafed at government officials' criticism of tech companies' refusal to provide "back doors" into encryption programs that guard customers' online messages and other files.
Still, Earnest told reporters: "Our sense here is there's some common ground we should be able to find." He added, "We're hopeful there would be a willingness on their part to work with us and try to find some solutions."
While the discussions will likely continue, no further meetings were announced. Two tech company representatives said encryption was not the main focus of Friday's meeting, although it was discussed.
Also on Friday, Obama administration officials said the Homeland Security and Justice Departments will jointly run a new task force focused on domestic efforts to prevent violent extremism.
The State Department, meanwhile, is revamping an existing program aimed at encouraging foreign governments and private groups outside the U.S. to speak out against the Islamic State and other militants. That represents a shift away from a previous effort to produce U.S.-sponsored videos and other messages, which has not been viewed as a success.
Hennessey reported from Washington. AP writers Michael Liedtke in San Francisco and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.