Obama and Cameron fail to see eye to eye on surveillance

British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President barack Obama addressing the world press at the East Room in the White House on Friday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President barack Obama addressing the world press in the East Room of  the White House on Friday.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron struck different notes on surveillance powers after the president conceded that there is an important balance to be struck between monitoring terror suspects and protecting civil liberties. As Cameron warned the internet giants that they must do more to ensure they do not become platforms for terrorist communications, the US president said he welcomed the way in which civil liberties groups hold them to account by tapping them on the shoulder.

Obama agreed with the prime minister that there could be no spaces on the internet for terrorists to communicate that could not be monitored by the intelligences agencies, subject to proper oversight. But, unlike Cameron, the president encouraged groups to ensure that he and other leaders do not abandon civil liberties. The prime minister adopted a harder stance on the need for big internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter to do more to cooperate with the surveillance of terror suspects. In an interview with Channel 4 News he said they had to be careful not to act as a communications platform for terrorists.

Cameron said: “These companies are run by good and sensible people, we’re having good and productive conversations. You’re absolutely right we’re not China. We have a very clear set of legal procedures. I’m not trying to go through a back door here. The companies themselves have all sorts of interests, but one of those interests is they don’t want to be the platform that becomes safe for terrorists to talk to each other and plan appalling outrages on. We saw with respect to the terrorist outrage on the streets of Woolwich that companies don’t want to play a role in bad things that can happen.”

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