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President Barack Obama takes questions during his final White House press conference. (White House via YouTube)

In the wake of a presidential campaign marred by hacking and social-media skulduggery, President Barack Obama says America’s digital architecture will have to be fine-tuned to preserve democracy.

The issue arose today during Obama’s final White House press conference – just two days before President-elect Donald Trump is due to take the reins of power.

Obama’s comments on cybersecurity came up with regard to his decision to commute the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 on charges of leaking classified information via WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has also been implicated in claims that Russian hackers broke into the email accounts of Democratic campaign officials with the aim of tilting support toward Trump. Today, Obama said the evidence wasn’t conclusive “as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not.” But he said cybersecurity is a growing concern for the democratic process:

“In this new cyber age, we’re going to have to make sure that we continually work to find the right balance of accountability and openness and transparency that is the hallmark of our democracy, but also recognize that there are adversaries and bad actors out there who want to use that same openness in ways that hurt us, whether that’s in trying to commit financial crimes, or trying to commit acts of terrorism, or folks who want to interfere with our elections.

“And we’re going to have to continually build the kind of architecture to make sure the best of our democracy is preserved, that our national security and intelligence agencies have the ability to carry out policy without advertising to our adversaries what it is that we’re doing, but do so in a way that still keeps citizens up to speed on what their government’s doing on their behalf.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been taking refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid facing charges in Sweden, was reportedly willing to be extradited to the U.S. if Manning received clemency.

Obama was asked about Assange’s offer, but referred reporters to the Justice Department for comment. (The Hill quoted a lawyer for Assange as saying the commutation “was well short” of what Assange was seeking.)

For his part, Trump acknowledged last week that Russia played a part in presidential campaign hacking and said his administration would come up with strategies to beef up “hacking defense” within 90 days.

 

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