Thursday 19 February 2015

White House Summit Highlights Disconnect Between Washington and Silicon Valley

If the logical place to hold a White House summit is the nation’s capital, it’s worth noting that Stanford University played host to last Friday’s WhiteHouse Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection Summit.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, United States President Barack Obama called for greater collaboration between government and the private sector in strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity. His keynote address asked for support of well-intentioned but misguided legislation currently in Congress and concluded with the signing of an executive order to promote information sharing among the private sector and between the private sector and government.

The underlying message of the summit was clear: cybersecurity has become a top concern for the White House, but it cannot be addressed unilaterally; Obama needs the tech industry on his side. However, the CEOs of West Coast powerhouses Facebook, Google, and Yahoo were noticeably absent on Friday. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, whose iMessage offers customers the protection of end-to-end encryption, did speak, but his words may not have been what Obama wanted to hear:

“We can imagine a day in the not so distant future when your wallet becomes a remnant of the past, your passport, your driver’s license and other important documents can be digitally stored in a way that’s safe, secure, and easy to access, but only by you.  After all, we shouldn’t have to trade our security for the convenience of having all of this information at our fingertips. When a system is designed properly, security and convenience can actually work in harmony. This is a world of greater privacy and a world where criminals find it much more difficult to carry out their crimes.

“By harnessing the technology at our disposal, and working together as businesses, government, and citizens, we believe we can bring about a future that fully embraces both privacy and security. We must get this right. History has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences.”

The White House continues to push for information sharing as its solution to cybercrime, and the Silicon Valley tech industry it came west to woo is standing strong in defiance. If Obama wants to move this conversation forward, he needs to do more than move closer—he needs to start listening.

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