SAN FRANCISCO – The Department of Homeland Security plans to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told a crowded hall at RSA, the world’s largest computer security conference, on Tuesday.
It’s also pushing back against moves by tech companies to digitally encode computer traffic to protect it from prying eyes.
The move West is a peace offering to the tech community, which was angered when details about the extent of government digital surveillance were revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The Silicon Valley office will help Homeland Security entice top Valley tech talent to come work for it, in the new United States Digital Service.
“I hope some of you listening will consider a tour of service for your country,” he said.
Johnson also wants to find ways his department can work with companies racing to encrypt their files, because the department’s inability to access encrypted information poses public safety challenges.
That, too, is linked to Snowden’s revelations. Tech companies have scrambled to show they value customers’ privacy and have deployed encryption to protect their information from government surveillance.
“The current course we are on, toward deeper and deeper encryption in response to the demands of the marketplace, is one that presents real challenges for those in law enforcement and national security,” he said.
Encryption makes it hard to fight criminals and, potentially, terrorist activity, he said.
Johnson asked the audience to work with him find a solution that takes into account both the privacy expectations of the American public and the security needs of law enforcement.
“We need your help,” he said.
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