US & UK Intelligence pow-wow with IT brass in secretive summit

Reuters/Dado Ruvic
US and UK Intelligence officials discussed the subject of surveillance with representatives from Google, Apple and elsewhere recently during a closed-door summit.

According to The Intercept, attendees at a secretive conference held last week on intelligence, security and privacy by The Ditchley Foundation, an international think tank, included officials from Silicon Valley and Washington, DC alike.

The three-day conference took place May 14-16 at a mansion in Oxfordshire, England under rules that prohibit attendees from discussing who said what to anyone not in attendance, Ryan Gallagher wrote for The Intercept on Friday.

Among those who sat in during the summit were Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security, Apple’s senior director of global privacy and members of the US Central Intelligence Agency, the White House’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

A program for the event published by The Intercept suggests attendees planned on discussing the risks of mass surveillance, and private sector obligations to cooperate with government requests, among other topics. They also addressed the question: “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?”

Duncan Campbell, a veteran investigative reporter who attended the event, told The Intercept that the “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the former US National Security Agency contractor who began disclosing secret documents about government surveillance programs to the media in 2013.

Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that the ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” Campbell said.

“Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape, and that a change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency,’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

In June 2013, leaked intelligence documents provided by Snowden revealed that the NSA has been conducting mass surveillance programs in which Americans and foreigners alike are subject to government sanctioned eavesdropping. Revelations about the NSA’s efforts to crack encryption standards and policies implemented by tech companies the world over have since triggered a rift between Silicon Valley and intelligence officials. A discussion on the use of a Patriot Act provision to authorize some of those spy efforts took center stage in Washington this week, when Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) led a nearly 10-hour-long filibuster to raise objections over the NSA’s operations.