News & Views
Obama champions innovation and privacy

This week saw President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address, a good portion of which was dedicated to discussing what can be done to help families overcome the difficulties left in the wake of the financial crisis, and how to address an even more universal issue; climate change. If your attention span prohibits you from reading the whole thing, then you might want to check out The Guardian’s version, told entirely in emojis.


Innovation was also on the agenda, with the President issuing a call for some of that famous, all-American ingenuity: “I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs,” he said. “Converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay.”


Perhaps the most controversial and anticipated issue in the address was that of online security. “As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties,” says Obama, “and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in fighting against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”

This comes shortly after a Washington DC visit from David Cameron, in which the Prime Minister requested the President’s assistance in pressuring sites like Twitter to work with GCHQ and other intelligence organisations. “The prime minister’s objective here is to get US companies to cooperate with us more, to make sure that our intelligence agencies get the information they need to keep us safe,” a government source stated. But while Obama’s speech stressed the need for regulations to protect the public from inappropriate data gathering, Cameron appears to have swung the other way entirely, rallying against encryption and calling for a “snoopers’ charter” which will legally justify all kinds of surveillance.

Elsewhere, Republican Senator Rand Paul has ridiculed Obama’s claim that the privacy of Americans is of the utmost importance: “These elites say, ‘trust us, we won’t violate your privacy.’ But when the Intelligence Director is not punished for lying in Congress, how are we to trust them? Are we to trust them to collect and hold every American’s phone records?” He goes on to describe the collection of information without a warrant as unconstitutional, and demands that Obama “immediately end this invasion of our privacy.”

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