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Obama: 'We will be engaging' tech firms on tracking terrorists

President Obama on Friday said the White House will be “engaging with the high-tech community” to explore ways to better uncover potential terrorist plots.

“It is very difficult for us to detect lone-wolf plots,” Obama said.

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In his final press conference of 2015, Obama addressed fears that the government is unable to track the encrypted digital communications of extremists who may be planning attacks similar to those in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“If you have a private communications between two individuals, that’s harder to discern by definition,” Obama said.

Lawmakers have said they believe the suspects in both terror attacks likely used encrypted digital platforms to communicate off the radar of law enforcement.

Investigators of the Paris attacks said this week that the attackers used the popular apps Telegram and WhatsApp to communicate. Both services use end-to-end encryption, giving only the sender and the receiver access to the communication.

Similar direct evidence has not been produced for the San Bernardino attacks.

“We’re going to have to really review what we can do, both technically as well as consistent with our laws and values, to try and discern more rapidly some of the potential threats that may be out there,” he added.

Obama’s comments might be a preview of an expected update to the White House’s stance on encryption policy. The administration has indicated the new statement could come around the new year.

The White House spent much of the past year reviewing possible methods to force companies to decrypt data upon request. But in October, officials backed away from any type of mandate, which the tech community and privacy advocates argue would expose secure data to hackers as well as the government.

Since then, the White House has been mostly mum on the subject.

Obama avoided using the actual word “encryption” on Friday, instead referring to “private communications through various social media or apps.”

But he did acknowledge that investigators would not always have access to these private platforms.

“We’re going to have to recognize that no government is going to have the capacity to read every single person's text or emails or social media,” he said.

Obama also gave a nod to privacy advocates’ concerns about any form of guaranteed access to data.

“It raises questions about our values,” he added. “Keep in mind, it was only a couple years ago where we were having a major debate about whether the government was becoming too much like big brother. We’re going to have to continue to balance our needs for security with people’s legitimate concerns for privacy.”