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Cybersecurity: Mr. Obama goes to Silicon Valley

David Gura Feb 13, 2015

President Obama was in California Friday, for a summit on cybersecurity. On the Stanford University campus, he met with consumer advocates and privacy advocates, along with executives from the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. The president asked them to share more information with the government – information, he argued, that could stop future  cyber attacks. But when it comes to information sharing, tech companies are in a difficult position.

Companies could benefit from knowing who has attacked whom, and so could the government. But, says David Opderbeck, a law professor at Seton Hall University, companies worry about a lot of things, including lawsuits. “The tension between security and privacy and property rights is really acute,” he says.

Companies like Facebook and Google have built their businesses on privacy and trust, and Susan Landau, an expert on cybersecurity policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says that’s what stands in the way of information sharing. “I mean, why should people give you their very personal data if the government is going to swoop it up?”

And there is, she notes, still plenty of anger in Silicon Valley about the government surveillance programs we learned about from Edward Snowden. At the summit, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a forceful speech on privacy. “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money,” he said. “We risk our way of life.”

Something that makes cybersecurity tricky is that most of the U.S. information infrastructure is in private hands. “You know, historically, state-sponsored attacks were dealt with by the Pentagon,” says Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University. “If China were invading our shores, we wouldn’t expect a company to go deal with that. We would expect the government to.”

But when a Chinese hacker uses the Internet to attack an American company, it is more complicated.

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