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9 Aug, 2013 17:41

Obama had secret meeting with tech executives to discuss govt surveillance

Obama had secret meeting with tech executives to discuss govt surveillance

US President Barack Obama met in private with executives of prominent technology firms to discuss government surveillance on Thursday. Those present in the talks included CEOs of Apple and AT&T.

"This is one of a number of discussions the administration is having with experts and stakeholders in response to the president's directive to have a national dialogue about how to best protect privacy in a digital era,” a White House official confirmed.

An anonymous source told Politico that topics discussed at the meeting included how to “respect” privacy while defending national security. 

A Google computer scientist and other tech executives were also present at the meeting. Representatives from the Center for Democracy and Technology were invited to attend the event, along with the head of Public Knowledge – a group which “preserves the openness of the internet and the public’s access to knowledge.”

The closed-door meeting, which took place late Thursday, was not listed on Obama’s daily public schedule.

Thursday’s discussion followed a separate private meeting between top Obama officials, lobbyists and privacy advocates on Tuesday. The latest meeting was “organized with greater secrecy,” according to Politico.

The earlier talks involved officials from a different selection of tech groups, the White house confirmed. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler gathered representatives from the Information Technology Industry Council, including TechNet and TechAmerica.

Together, the groups are representative of a large portion of tech industry companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, along with defense contractors.

The meeting also involved civil liberties groups such as The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The spike in interest surrounding US government surveillance and its access to data and records through communications companies follows a wealth of information revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding America’s surveillance of its own population and that of other countries.

It was revealed in June that NSA spying programs give low-level analysts access to US citizens’ private data with little court approval or supervision.

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” Obama told US talk show host Jay Leno during a Tuesday night interview. “What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.”

One of Obama’s former advisers said on Friday that his statement ran contrary to the truth. “First of all, we do have a domestic spying program, and what we need to be able to do is figure out how to balance these things,” he told CNN.

“Trust and credibility depend on the appearance of fairness and accountability. My fear is that some of those agencies and institutions are in peril of losing it,” Democratic Senator Richard said on Thursday during a speech at Harvard Law School.

NSA Director Keith Alexander made a speech at the annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, in which he claimed surveillance methods had had been mischaracterized by the media and are subject to rigorous government oversight. He tried to start a dialogue himself, commenting “I do think it’s important for us to have this discussion. Because in my opinion, what you believe is what’s written in the press without looking at the fact." His speech was met with jeers and accusations of lying by unconvinced listeners.