Tech leaders urge Obama to move on NSA overhaul

WASHINGTON — Tech executives urged President Obama on Tuesday to "move aggressively" to overhaul the way the U.S. government conducts surveillance.

The push came during a private meeting with Obama at the White House, which was billed as an opportunity to brief industry leaders on the progress the administration has made solving problems with the federal online health care exchange as well as the fallout that national security leaks have had on their companies.

Among those at the White House meeting were Apple's CEO Tim Cook, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program that collects millions of Americans' telephone records may be unconstitutional. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration believes the surveillance program is constitutional.

Officials from eight companies — including AOL, Apple, Facebook and Google — wrote an open letter to Obama and Congress last week in which they plainly stated their call to curb surveillance.

Among the changes the group requests of government: to codify limitations on its ability to compel service providers to disclose user data; to bolster oversight of intelligence agencies collecting information; and to allow companies to publish the number of instances and nature of government demands for user information.

"We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the president our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urge him to move aggressively on reform," the executives said in a joint statement.

Schmidt, of Google, opened the meeting and laid out industry officials' concerns. Obama seemed sympathetic to the idea of allowing more disclosure of government surveillance requests by technology companies, according to a tech industry official who was briefed on the meeting. The official asked to remain anonymous because the meeting was private.

Mayer, the Yahoo! executive, brought up concerns about the potentially negative impact that could be caused if countries, such as Brazil, move forward with legislation that would require service providers to ensure that data belonging to a citizen of a certain country remain in the country it originates, the official said.

That would require technology companies to build data centers in each country — a costly problem for American Internet companies, the official said. The White House noted in a statement after the meeting that the group discussed the "economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures."

The White House announced Friday that Obama received 40 recommendations from a special study group he tasked with reviewing the U.S. intelligence community's collection of telephone and Internet data. The study group was created in the aftermath of revelations made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Obama's action on the recommendations — which he is weighing and expected to announce next month — are of significant importance to companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and others who are dealing with the fallout of reports based on Snowden's leaks that the NSA gained access to some of their users' information.

In a light moment at the start of the meeting, Obama asked Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about whether he brought any advance copies of the second season of the soon-to-be-released House of Cards. Obama joked about his admiration for the Netflix-produced program, which is based in Washington and features a power-hungry politician played by actor Kevin Spacey.

"I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient," Obama said. The president added about Spacey's character Frank Underwood: "This guy's getting a lot of stuff done."


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