And in fighting terrorism we have renewed our commitment to ensuring that protecting the safety of our citizens does not mean, does not mean, compromising our determination to uphold civil liberties ....
We must not abandon democratic values even in the pursuit of public safety. The values are in fact our greatest tools for ensuring peace and security ...
He did call out the Budapest Convention on Cyber Crime as a critical instrument in confronting copyright infringement, child pornography, network security and computer related fraud. In that he also called other nations like Singapore to accede to the Budapest Convention.
He stressed the importance of international frameworks (like the Budapest Convention and the Interpol Centre) in preventing and combating cybercrime as no nation can tackle this by themselves.
Expectedly, he referred to the "layered oversight" in the US which helps in safeguarding civil liberties (e.g. the Constitution establishing a federal government with extensive checks and balances, bill of rights, protection against self-incrimination, protection against unreasonable search and seizures).
The more interesting part was the panel discussion moderated by Professor Simon Chesterman, with AG Holder, Foreign Minister Shanmugam and Judge of Appeal designate Sundaresh Menon.
When asked about the tension between security and liberty (especially after the events of September 11), and whether the balance between the two can ever be stable, A-G Holder mentioned that we should always aspire to a balance. He did acknowledge that in US history there were situations where those values have been sacrificed in trying to protect its citizens, and he described (and I think rightly so), that the enduring thing of the US is that they have always self-corrected, and they have always gotten back into that balance.
I thought that Mr Sundaresh Menon also characterised this balance very well. Paraphrasing: Balance is not a static concept. Events like September 11 were cataclysmic events that affected our perspective on a whole array of issues, and inevitably when you have an incident like that, you have dramatic changes or reactions to it, and after a period time, you evolve to find a balance that is appropriate to your society and to the peculiar challenges that you face. And that hopefully this balance will be guided by the values which you subscribe to.
On the topic of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, A-G Holder said that he was "cautiously optimistic" that Guantanamo Bay will not be in operation in five years time.
The question and answer session was interesting with questions about drone strikes, and the Singapore internal security act.
I asked a question as well on what A-G Holder's views were on companies moving towards unilateral action to actively interrupt or disrupt the systems or activities of hackers (i.e "active defence" or "hack the hacker"), considering that such activity is likely to be illegal, and whether Mr Sundaresh Menon and Minister Shanmugam thought that it would be worthwhile considering looking at Singapore's Computer Misuse Act and whether a carefully crafted exemption relating to active defense measure could be included so that companies protecting themselves will not fall foul of the law. I had asked that question because of news recently with Google mentioning that they were going to use technology to target illegal networks, and a UK parliamentary commission suggesting that proactive first-strike measures be taken in the event of a cyber attack. For the answer from the panelists and my further thoughts on this, I am going to leave it to a next post as it is a whole topic by itself.
UPDATE: the US Department of Justice has put up the actual text of A-G Holder's speech here. Someone asked me whether he actually said "does not mean" twice in his speech. Yes he did. I heard it, and I think that he did it for emphasis.