US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, meeting in Washington on Friday, are expected to announce a newly strengthened partnership against cyber-crime.
Cameron, on his fourth visit to the White House, is also the first European leader to meet with Obama since the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris, so global security will be on the agenda.
After a private working dinner on Thursday evening, the two leaders met on Friday morning in the Oval Office. A joint press conference was planned for after the meeting.
On Thursday, Cameron had vowed progress on the “new threat” of cyber security.
“Cyber security and cyber attacks are one of the big modern threats that we face,” the British leader stressed Friday to the BBC.
“We should combine … (to) set up cyber cells on both sides of the Atlantic to share information and to work out not only how we best protect ourselves but how we create a system where countries and hostile states and hostile organizations know they shouldn’t attack us.”
In a video posted on Twitter shortly before his arrival in the US capital on Thursday, Cameron had promised “important announcements” on the issue.
The two leaders are expected to announce the creation of a joint cell to fight cyber-crime, bringing together intelligence agencies from the two countries, British media have reported.
Members of Britain’s electronic spying agency (GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters) and of its MI5 spy agency would work with their US counterparts from the FBI and the National Security Agency, with the aim of improving information sharing between the two sides.
As if to illustrate the partnership, a young hacker — suspected of taking part in the worldwide attacks that shut down Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox gaming platforms over Christmas — was arrested Friday in a joint operation with the FBI and British police.
The two sides are also planning exercises to simulate attacks against the financial sector, including the Bank of England and others, for later this year.
‘Wrong responses to Charlie Hebdo’
On a more sensitive issue, Cameron is also expected to urge increased controls on secure communications. The question of the degree of cooperation with US tech titans like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to detect possible threats should also be addressed.
Asked about plans for closer cooperation Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was cautious.
“It is imperative that we properly balance the need for government intelligence agencies and national security agencies to have access to certain kinds of information to try to protect their citizens.
“At the same time, it is critically important for the government to protect the privacy of their citizens,” he said.
The topic is sensitive in the United States since Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed the extent to which the National Security Agency scoops up telephone and Internet data.
Reforms of US surveillance efforts are ongoing.
In an editorial headlined “Wrong Responses to Charlie Hebdo,” the New York Times argued Cameron’s proposals “would make the Internet less secure without necessarily hampering terrorists.”
Cameron and Obama had vowed, in a joint statement Thursday, to fight terrorism while defending free expression, rights, and democracy.
They are also determined to continue to pressure Russia over its “aggressive actions” in Ukraine.
They said the recent upsurge of fighting in the pro-Russian east could lead to a serious continental conflict.
On the economic front, the leaders are likely to discuss free trade agreements between the US and the European Union that has been promoted as a job creator.
Obama, 53, is beginning his last two years in office, while Cameron, 48, is preparing for general elections in May that are expected to be very close and could mark the end of his coalition government.