The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Homeland Security is laying roots in Silicon Valley, and you might not like its reasons

The Department of Homeland Security plans to open an office in California’s Silicon Valley to recruit talent from the technology sector and build relationships with the industry.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the program at a major cyber security conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, saying he hopes more specialists in the field will join the federal government for “a tour of service.”

Johnson’s speech also touched on a topic that has caused privacy advocates to bristle: The Obama administration’s growing opposition to highly advanced encryption methods that prevent both hackers and law-enforcement from accessing private records.

[FBI director calls on Congress to stop unlockable encryption. Good luck with that.]

“Our inability to access encrypted information poses public safety challenges,” the secretary said. “In fact, encryption is making it harder for your government to find criminal activity, and potential terrorist activity.”

Privacy advocate Edward Snowden has argued the opposite point, encouraging technology companies to adopt better encryption to protect individuals from the government’s prying eyes.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, exposed secret domestic-surveillance operations by the U.S. government that included warrantless collections of data, including phone conversations, from American citizens.

[Classified documents show rules for NSA surveillance without a warrant]

Nonetheless, Johnson urged technology specialist to join the government, saying they could help strike a balance between the “basic, physical security of the American people and the liberties and freedoms we cherish as Americans.”

The Obama administration last year launched the U.S. Digital Service, a re-working of an older initiative to spread smart technologists and technology products across federal agencies, many of which have struggled in recent years to keep up with digital innovations and cybersecurity threats.

[Washington’s autopen signature-writing machines rumble into the digital age]