President Obama and senior administration officials huddled with top technology executives Friday to discuss progress on the president's proposed reforms to electronic government surveillance program, amid growing concerns voiced by some of Silicon Valley's biggest names over government surveillance.
The White House said Obama and the executives — which included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and Google chairman Eric Schmidt — discussed steps Obama had ordered to restrict government intelligence activities.
Palantir founder Alexander Karp, Box CEO Aaron Levie, and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston also joined the meeting. In addition to Obama, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, White House adviser Valerie Jarrrett, counselor John Podesta, Homeland Security czar Lisa Monaco, National Economic Director Jeff Zeints, and Deputy NSA Director Rick Ledgett joined the Oval Office meeting from the administration.
According to a Facebook spokeswoman, Zuckerberg and Obama "had an honest talk about government intrusion on the Internet and the toll it is taking on people's confidence in a free and open Internet."
"While the US Government has taken helpful steps to reform its surveillance practices, these are simply not enough," the spokeswoman said in a statement. "People around the globe deserve to know that their information is secure and Facebook will keep urging the US Government to be more transparent about its practices and more protective of civil liberties."
The meeting came a week after Zuckerberg revealed in a blog post that he had called Obama personally to complain about government surveillance.
Zuckerberg said he called the president "to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future."
"Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform," he wrote, adding that government spying posed a “threat” to the Internet.
“When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we're protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” Zuckerberg wrote, adding that revelations about NSA spying programs had left him “confused and frustrated.”
The meeting also comes a week before the March 28 deadline that Obama gave Attorney General Eric Holder and other top administration officials to present options for reforming the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Holder told reporters that the Justice Department was on track to present the president with its proposal to change the government’s metadata collection program. In a January speech, Obama tasked his attorney general with finding a way to wind down the government program without harming intelligence capabilities.
But how to accomplish that goal remains an open task. A report prepared by a presidential review panel last month suggested that the records be maintained by telephone companies or a third party. But companies have been resistant to that idea, fearful it could sour their relationships with customers and prove expensive.
In addition to a discussion on government surveillance programs, Obama updated CEOs on the comprehensive "big data" review being led by Podesta.
According to the White House, the review "looks at how “big data” will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how the public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy."
On Friday afternoon, the White House also launched a public website to solicit Americans' opinion on data collection. The site includes a survey asking users how much they trust institutions like universities, intelligence agencies, and commercial businesses with their private data.
"We know that it's a complicated issue," Podesta says in a video message on the site. "Technology is changing rapidly, from sensors all around us to the ability of companies and government to analyze and look at vast volumes of data."