Tech Execs Press White House on NSA Surveillance Reforms

At a meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden yesterday, executives from America's top technology companies urged the administration to reform the National Security Agency spying programs because they are "damaging their reputations" abroad and could ultimately "harm the broader economy."

Cisco Systems said during the meeting that it has seen customers overseas back away from American technology after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA enlisted tech firms and secretly tapped into their data hubs around the world. Companies such as IBM, AT&T and Verizon Communications are also facing angry shareholders, some of whom have already filed lawsuits demanding that the companies disclose their participation in NSA intelligence programs.

The companies also called for more transparency and for limits on surveillance. Specifically they asked for more information on what exactly the NSA was doing overseas to collect their data and asked to have the ability to talk about it publicly, according to industry and U.S. officials briefed on the meeting who spoke to the Washington Post.

"Most companies" in the room pressed this point, "and they did so loudly," said one U.S. official.

President Obama said that he heard their message and that the White House would take their concerns and requests into consideration as it completed its review of NSA surveillance programs.

According to the Washington Post's account of the meeting, several executives showed up angry and seeking answers. Their anger was due to a Washington Post report in late October that revealed the NSA and British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) were gaining access to the data connections that linked Google and Yahoo servers around the world.

Their message to the president? "What the hell are you doing? Are you really hacking into the infrastructure of American companies overseas? The same American companies that cooperate with your lawful orders and spend a lot of money to comply with them to facilitate your intelligence collection?” said one industry official familiar with the companies’ views.

Senior administration officials described the meeting with the 15 executives as “constructive, not at all contentious.”

"This was an opportunity for the President to hear from CEOs directly as we near completion of our review of signals intelligence programs, building on the feedback we’ve received from the private sector in recent weeks and months," the White House said in a statement.

One executive at the meeting suggested that the president pardon Snowden. Obama said he could not do that, according to one industry official.

Senior executives from AT&T, Yahoo, Apple, Netflix, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Facebook were among those in attendance.

"We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the President our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urged him to move aggressively on reform," the technology firms said in a joint statement after the meeting.

Source: Washington Post

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