The start of a new year provides the perfect opportunity to turn the page on the controversial debate on technology and terrorism.  The recent meeting between leaders in the tech sector and members of the Obama administration is an opportunity to focus on how innovation can be a part of the solution in ways that recognize the evolving nature of terrorism and respect our trust relationship with citizens all around the world.   

In the technology sector, we recognize that the new normal must include greater action from each of us. We have embraced our responsibility to act—not because of pressure from any politician—but guided by a foundational belief that we can advance innovation, privacy, and national security in parallel.  

ADVERTISEMENT
For example, the major social media platform companies are making progress in removing terrorist content from their sites while respecting the rights of users to engage in legitimate, constitutionally protected speech.  These companies have no tolerance for terrorists, terror propaganda, or the praising of terror activity.  They work aggressively around the clock, and around the globe, to remove such content and appropriately provide information to law enforcement as soon as they become aware of it.   

An algorithm to sift the Internet for jihadist posts online cannot do it alone—it takes human eyes to judge whether language is being used to recruit and radicalize, or to speak out against terrorists and their heinous acts.  

They are not alone in their commitment.  Technology companies across the globe regularly interface with law enforcement in ways that are respectful of national security, freedom of expression, and privacy.  As well, every day, people use the Internet to raise awareness, promote positive social action, speak out against oppression, and challenge the lies used to fuel hatred and extremism. This is an area that is ripe for further collaboration.  Working together, we should be able to further amplify the voices that stand against terrorism, empower citizens to share information when they suspect something, and encourage more tech talent to work in the public sector battling terrorism.   

More can be done.  In the United States, we need better systems and standards for prioritizing court-ordered requests from law enforcement and the intelligence community.  Internationally, we need more efficient, transparent, and accountable processes for dealing with requests from allied foreign governments.  Under the current system, U.S. companies are prohibited by law from providing foreign governments with certain types of information—even in terrorism investigations—and foreign governments must often wait months before their law enforcement requests for information are fulfilled.   

To address these problems, Congress must ensure the Department of Justice receives the resources it needs to increase efficiency in existing information sharing mechanisms like mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) processes.  Further, given the rapid pace of information, we also need new frameworks to enable meaningful global collaboration in the fight against terrorism.     

What we cannot do is limit the availability or effectiveness of encryption: to do so would be dangerous. The current debate oversimplifies this as an issue of privacy vs. security, which misleads the public about encryption’s central role in our collective security.   

Encryption is a fundamental tool that protects the security of sensitive data, critical networks, and our interconnected world.  There is a never-ending arms race online to stay one step ahead of malicious hackers, criminal syndicates, rogue nations, and even terrorists, who want to cause us serious physical and financial harm.  Encryption keeps these cybercriminals out of bank accounts, shields airplanes from malicious hacks, and safeguards the power grid against enemies who want to plunge our cities into darkness.   

Any compromise on encryption would create new vulnerabilities, erode public trust, and would not advance our shared interest in stopping terrorists.  The tactics of the terrorist is constantly evolving, involving new applications, platforms, or other methods to hide from justice.  Therefore, any discussion on encryption must be mindful of this reality, the global nature of these issues, and the fact that whether it comes from a company, a government, an open source, or a terrorist coder, encryption will remain widely available.  

Acknowledging this fact and embracing encryption is not the same as embracing a world that is “dark” and enabling of terrorism.  Even with today’s use of encryption technology, there is more data available today to aid law enforcement than ever before in human history.  Guided by the Constitution, the courts, and our values, we can find better ways to leverage that data to bolster the fight against the terrorists.  

In the heat of this struggle, it may seem as if the world is filled with evil.  In reality, the overwhelming majority of humanity is good.  We stand ready to work with policy-makers, law enforcement, and citizens to harness that good in ways that fight terrorism while protecting our core human values.  

 Garfield is president & CEO of  ITI, an advocacy group representing 64 of the world’s leading technology companies.