US, UK want to tackle ‘technical issues’ of accessing encrypted private information

Western intelligence agencies must be able to intercept any communications in order to thwart potential terror attacks being hatched by extremist groups, and this must be done without violating citizens' rights, US and British leaders said.

British authorities don’t need “backdoors” into the websites and communication protocols used for online conversations, Cameron added. Instead, he said: “We believe in very clear front doors through legal processes that should help to keep our countries safe.”

US President Barack Obama and his UK counterpart, Prime Minister David Cameron, held a joint press conference at the White House on Friday and answered questions about how far the governments could go in violating privacy as concerns surrounding recent terrorist activity grow.

Cameron has taken heat from privacy proponents in recent days for advocating a plan that would assure UK investigators are able to pry through the digital conversations of suspected terrorists by banning encryption.

President Obama fell short of endorsing that platform during Friday’s meeting, but said the US and UK governments must ensure national security is preserved along with the privacy of American and British citizens.

"Given the urgent and growing danger of cyberthreats, we have expanded our collaboration on cybersecurity," Obama said, adding that he believes technology companies would want to see potential “tragedies” prevented.

"They’re patriots, they have families they want to see protected,” he said. "We just have to work through in many cases what are technical issues. It's not so much that there are differences in intent, but how to square the circle on these issues is difficult.”

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The countries would "deepen our cybersecurity cooperation" in an effort to "keep pace with new threats," Cameron said. He was more privacy concerned during the conference, saying the governments don’t need “backdoors” when they can use front doors.

“We have to make sure we do everything we can to keep our country safe,” added Cameron, who said that defeating violent extremist groups such as the Islamic State will be a “long, patient and hard struggle” that can only be achieved through a “patient, disciplined approach.”

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Terrorist groups are proficient in coordinating over the web, Obama said, although American intelligence agencies are, at this point, able to intervene when necessary.

“When we have the ability to track that in a way that is legal and forms with due process, rule of law and presents oversight, then that’s the capability that we have to preserve,” Obama said.

“The biggest damage that was done as a consequence of the Snowden disclosures was, I think, in some cases, a complete undermining of trust,” Obama added, referring to the unauthorized disclosure of National Security Agency documents, including files exposing the NSA’s vast surveillance operation involving the communications of Americans and foreigners alike.

“Some would say that that was justified. I would argue that although there are some legitimate concerns there, overall the US and, from what I’ve seen, the British government, have operated in a scrupulous and lawful way to try to balance the security and privacy concerns. And we can do better and that is what we are doing. But we are still going to have to find ways to make sure that if an Al-Qaeda affiliate is operating in Great Britain or in the United States, that we can try to prevent a real tragedy.”