By Bill Rigby
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is in the final stages of planning to set up a satellite office in California's Silicon Valley, aiming to build relationships with the technology industry and scout for talent there, the department's secretary said on Tuesday.
The move would be unprecedented and signals the intent of government to smoothe relationships with tech companies in the wake of damaging revelations over digital surveillance by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
"We want to strengthen critical relationships in Silicon Valley and ensure the government and the private sector benefits from each other's research and development," said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson at a presentation at the RSA conference on computer security in San Francisco.
"We want to convince some of the talented workforce here in Silicon Valley to come to Washington. The new U.S. Digital Service provides the option for talent to flow and rotate between private industry and our government teams," he said.
U.S. tech companies such as Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and Facebook Inc have had an uneasy relationship with the U.S. government and its security agencies since Snowden's revelations, aligning themselves publicly with their customers' right to privacy over the government's desire for more effective surveillance of potential threats.
Johnson exhorted the tech industry to dial back its push for greater encryption on Tuesday, saying that it made it harder for government agencies to detect criminal activity.
"The current course we are on, towards deeper and deeper encryption, in response to the demands of the marketplace, is one that presents real challenges to those in law enforcement and national security," said Johnson. "Encryption is making it harder for your government to find criminal activity... We need your help to find the solution."
(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Diane Craft)