SAL Distinguished Speaker Lecture: Asymmetrical Threats: Responding to Terrorism and Cybercrime while Protecting Civil Liberties by Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr, USA
Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr, USA

Thank you, Judge of Appeal – Designate Sundaresh Menon, for those kind words – and thank you all for welcoming me this evening.  It is a pleasure to be in Singapore – and to be among so many of this nation’s current, and future, leaders.  And it is a privilege to bring greetings from President Obama – and from my colleagues at the United States Department of Justice. 

I’d also like to thank the Singapore Academy of Law for hosting this discussion – and for the commitment to excellence, and to the rule of law, that this institution has inspired and instilled in its members, supporters, and partners.  This is a commitment that our two nations share – and one of our many common values.  But these values do not simply bind us together – they also will allow us to build the future that we all seek and, together, must create.  Today, we have a unique and important opportunity to look toward this future – to explore ways to harness the power that new technologies, and greater understanding, have created; and to more effectively address and overcome the unprecedented challenges that define the digital age.

Without question, we have reached a pivotal moment in history.  Global cooperation has never been more essential.  And the special relationship between Singapore and the United States has never been more critical.  Our leaders – and our citizens – recognize this.  In fact, shortly after President Obama entered office more than three years ago, he directed our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to travel to Asia for her first official foreign trip.  That visit underscored the Asia Pacific region’s vital strategic role in the 21st century.  And, just last year, on his own trip through the region, President Obama – who, as you may know, spent some of his childhood years in Indonesia – spoke of the future of the Asia Pacific region as one of “security, prosperity, and dignity for all” and one in which America – as a “Pacific nation…will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.”

This evening, I’m proud to echo President Obama’s message of partnership – and to express my nation’s dedication to working alongside critical allies like Singapore to promote peace, opportunity, and prosperity throughout Asia.  And I am privileged to be a part of the Obama Administration’s broad engagement with this region as we address new ways to confront serious legal issues and to combat cross-border crimes.

At a time when we must constantly adapt and respond to unconventional and transnational threats – and do so in ways that honor our most basic and fundamental freedoms – I believe that we can be encouraged by how our nations have responded.  By working in common cause, in good faith, and with mutual respect, our countries have come together to bring dangerous criminals to justice, to identify and prosecute international organized crime networks, to uncover and dismantle illegal human trafficking rings, and to investigate global financial fraud schemes.  And we’ve made significant progress in more effectively sharing information and resources, and in elevating our international law enforcement efforts.  

Especially in the decade since the September 11th attacks – which were attacks not just against the United States, but against our shared ideals and all free societies – we can be proud of how our two nations have assisted one another.  Over the last decade, our governments – and those of our allies across the world – have launched and advanced collaborative efforts to reinforce our judicial and law enforcement cooperation.  And we’ve done this on a scale the world has never known before.  In these historic efforts, we have seen time and again that – just as our security interests are intertwined – our counter-terrorism efforts must be, as well.  And in fighting terrorism, we have renewed our commitment to ensuring that protecting the safety of our citizens does not mean compromising our determination to uphold civil liberties – and we’ve proven the effectiveness of such an approach.

Cybercrime presents challenges no less daunting.  In recent years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in cybercrime, which has threatened not only national security, but also the integrity of governments and the safety of our citizens.  In this new era of seamless commerce and instant communication, we’ve seen businesses prosper and innovation thrive unlike ever before.  But the cutting-edge technologies that we now rely on have also created new vulnerabilities.  And a growing number of criminals are actively seeking to exploit them in ways that can inflict significant, lasting harm on innovators, consumers, and entire countries. 

Cybercrime knows no boundaries – attacks launched in Southeast Asia can disrupt financial systems in America; counterfeit products manufactured in China can be made available for sale to anyone on the Internet.  And cybercriminals can now operate beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement mechanisms – using technology to steal information and commit financial fraud half-a-world away; and, with just a keystroke, can mount cyber attacks against infrastructure networks that span numerous countries.  No nation – and no government – is immune to these increasingly destructive and widespread threats. 

That’s why today – more than ever before – our nations must work together with a renewed commitment to fight cybercrime, and an unyielding resolve to protect our common values, including personal privacy and personal freedom. 

During my tenure as Attorney General, I have been honored to work with some of the leaders here today – and many others across this region – to navigate the way forward, and to help strengthen law enforcement cooperation so that we can meet today’s challenges – and anticipate tomorrow’s.  Over the last three years, the U.S. Justice Department has deepened its bilateral engagement with partners around the world, raising awareness of shared cyber threats, and forging a sustainable path forward to confront these issues head-on.  And in my meetings with counterparts in China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Hungary, and Germany, we’ve started a critical dialogue with government and industry leaders to combat cyber crime on a global scale – with a global strategy. 

Within the Justice Department, we’ve redoubled our efforts to assist our allies through mutual legal assistance in cyber cases.  And by increasing outreach and exchange programs for overseas judges, prosecutors, and investigators, we have taken our international law enforcement efforts to the next level, sharing ideas and strategies with essential global stakeholders unlike ever before.  Over the past six years, for instance, the Justice Department has participated in cyber or IP enforcement training and education programs for more than 12,000 prosecutors, investigators, judicial officers, and other officials from more than 30 countries.  We’ve stepped up our robust enforcement efforts with international partners.  And we’ve assembled innovative task forces to investigate and prosecute a variety of these crimes, including corporate and state-sponsored economic espionage that makes use of the Internet and cutting-edge technologies.

In recent years, I’m encouraged to see the global community responding to these challenges with historic collaboration, sharing resources across borders, working to avoid duplicative efforts, and – most importantly – successfully identifying and stopping cybercrimes wherever and whenever they arise. 

Let me take a moment to highlight the most important of these international collaborations in fighting cybercrime:  the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.  For more than a decade, the Convention – which is open to accession to countries outside the Council of Europe, and which the United States has joined – has proven to be a critical instrument in confronting the ever-evolving crimes committed in cyberspace, including crimes involving copyright infringement and network security, computer-related fraud, and child pornography.  With its mutual legal assistance framework, and its provisions that ensure signatory nations have the tools to fight cybercrime, the Budapest Convention is the key to fighting cybercrime on a global scale.

And we are beginning to see momentum growing as more nations join the Budapest Convention.  Japan ratified the Convention earlier this month; and we hope that Singapore – which is a world leader on cyber issues – will likewise join the Convention.  That’s all the more reason why institutions – like this Academy – must continue to drive forward critical discussions about ratification, keep working to find solutions to problems of both national and global consequence – and help maintain efforts to forge and strengthen international alliances that, quite frankly, have never been more important. 

Beyond the Convention, I’m hopeful about the other coordinated efforts that are currently underway to promote even greater investment and awareness in the area of cyber security.  The proposed opening of the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation right here in Singapore – scheduled for 2014 – will undoubtedly provide a critical boost to overall international security and ongoing law enforcement operations in the region – by enhancing police training, forensic analysis, and database capabilities for our nations and our partners around the globe.

But – no matter where this work takes us – one thing is already clear.  Cyber threats will continue to evolve – and no single nation can stay ahead of them on its own.  That’s why – if we are to succeed in preventing and combating these dangers – we must come together through international frameworks like the Budapest Convention and the INTERPOL Global Complex to identify and neutralize these threats, and implement best practices to ensure the safety of our citizens and to promote the rule of law.  Today, together, it’s time to ask: What can we do to confront the shared threats that we face?  How can we ensure that our partnership and coordination remain an example for other nations around the world?  And perhaps most importantly, we must consider: how can we achieve these objectives while safeguarding civil liberties and honoring our democratic institutions? 

These aren’t easy questions, particularly in the cyber context, which involves complex issues of personal privacy and expression.  But you are among the most qualified people to help answer them.  I’m grateful for your engagement – and your dedication to the responsibilities, goals, and values we share.  In discussing cyber issues in the United States, we are mindful that America’s origins – as well as its modern-day systems – reflect a core belief in the importance of protecting citizens from government intrusion.  Our founding document – the Constitution – established a federal system of limited government, with extensive checks and balances.  And our Bill of Rights ensures the freedom to speak and worship freely – and protection from self-incrimination, as well as from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

For over two centuries, these principles have guided leaders in my country to create a system of layered oversight and privacy protection that has become one of the most robust and effective in the world.  America’s experience – especially in recent years – shows that it is possible to achieve the appropriate balance between security and liberty.  And its long history serves as a constant reminder that both of our nations cannot – and 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.

I am assured that the protections we’ve already made will preserve the personal privacy rights and civil liberties for our citizens.  And I am very hopeful that – as we gather tonight in Singapore, which has been an increasingly influential leader in promoting and developing the rule of law throughout Asia – this Academy will continue to lead the way in honoring that same sacred commitment to our shared principles.   

Despite the uncertain challenges and the many responsibilities before us, I believe that we also have a unique and important opportunity to do what is necessary and what is right; to forge ahead; and to take our collective fight against cybercrime and terrorism to a new level, while remaining vigilant in protecting our most cherished freedoms and liberties.

In achieving the progress we seek – and shaping the future that our citizens deserve – I am confident in our ability to enhance safety and security while promoting peace and prosperity.  And no matter the challenge or the obstacle, we will continue to stand with you – and with our partners throughout the Asia Pacific region – to uphold our core principles and carry on the critical work in the years ahead. 

Thank you.