Big tech needs to help stop terrorism: Bharara

Amid a heated debate over big tech's role in monitoring terrorism, prosecutor Preet Bharara contended Friday that firms should give some ground on privacy concerns.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, last year led some policymakers and law enforcement officials to ask for more access to communications channels to monitor threats. Many large technology companies have resisted attempts to give authorities a special "back door" through their encryption systems.

But "it's not unreasonable" for law enforcement to legally obtain that access to identify threats before they happen, said Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"There needs to be a reasonable way to balance security and privacy. The intersection of those two issues is capable of being resolved by reasonable people," he said.

Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York
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Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York

Last week, encryption was discussed when Obama administration officials met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and executives from Google, Facebook and Yahoo, among other companies. No agreement came from the meeting, but a White House spokesman said the firms had no interest in seeing "their tools and their technology being used to aid and abet terrorists."

Silicon Valley companies have wanted to avoid giving too much access to personal messages and files. They have also expressed concerns about hackers breaching their systems through the back door created for law enforcement.

But without proper security steps, terrorists could target "the very companies that are talking about this sometimes in a way that's a little bit extreme," Bharara contended.

Bharara, known for prosecution of securities fraud and insider trading, also outlined broader efforts to protect companies against cyberattacks. He said the financial sector is the most vulnerable to threats, and firms need to notify and work with authorities to properly address an attack.

"People should be able to trust that, when they bring in the FBI in particular on something like this, that their goal is to make sure that they're trying to get the bad guy and get to the bottom of what the extent of the intrusion is to help the company, not to re-victimize it," Bharara said.