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Obama Seeks Partnerships with Tech Companies at SXSW Tech Festival


President Barack Obama speaks during the opening day of South By Southwest at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas, March 11, 2016.

President Barack Obama speaks during the opening day of South By Southwest at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas, March 11, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama says technology can help the government and private companies to join forces to solve the country's hardest problems.

Obama, speaking Friday at a music-and-technology festival in Austin, Texas, said there is no problem that can't be solved if government agencies, the private sector and non-profit companies work together. The key to making that happen, he said, is technology.

Obama's appearance at the annual South by Southwest Festival, a mecca for innovators and startup operations, is the first time a sitting president has delivered the festival's keynote address.

WATCH: Obama discusses visit to South by Southwest Festival


Government engagement

Obama said he has been trying to develop ways that the government can be a part of the positive change that technology can bring about. He said online technology has simplified the process of applying for student aid, accessing health care information, and applying for immigration services. The president also cited a partnership between the government and a private company that created an online "diaper bank" for low-income families with small children.

When asked about the debate between Apple and the FBI on unlocking the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter, Obama said he could not comment on the specific case. However, he said there must be a balance between privacy and security concerns. He cautioned those who would take an absolutist view on the topic, saying if technology is so secure that there is no key or door to access the data, then "how do we disrupt a terrorist plot?"

Visitors attend the 2015 Trade Show at the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music conference in Austin, Texas, March 15, 2015.

Visitors attend the 2015 Trade Show at the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music conference in Austin, Texas, March 15, 2015.

Controversies

Obama's appearance is creating a stir. Gun enthusiasts are holding a rally near the site where the president spoke. This year's festival is the first one since Texas' "open carry" law went into effect earlier this year. The measure makes it lawful for citizens to carry a range of different firearms in public, as long as they are carried in a holster.

The group, Open Carry Texas, said on its Facebook page that its members simply want to exercise their right to carry a weapon and distribute literature about their stance on gun laws.

But firearms, concealed or otherwise, are outlawed at the festival itself — so Open Carry participants were limited to a small gathering on the grounds of the state Capitol building.

WATCH: Obama addresses South by Southwest Festival

Skipping Reagan funeral

Also controversial is Obama's decision to keep his engagement at the festival rather than attend the funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at age 94.

First lady Michelle Obama is attending the service in Simi Valley, California, instead, along with a number of past and present public officials from both sides of the aisle.

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