Obama to huddle with Internet CEOs

 

President Obama will meet Friday afternoon with a group of Internet CEOs, amid growing concerns voiced by some of Silicon Valley's biggest names over government surveillance.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the president’s meeting would be a continuation of the president’s dialogue with technology companies “on the issues of privacy, technology and intelligence.” 

ADVERTISEMENT
The meeting 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.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who will be at the meeting, 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 US government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they're doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”

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.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander suggested in a speech last month that the government was ahead of schedule in presenting options to the president, saying “ideas” would hit the president’s desk before the end of February. 

It’s possible the president will preview for tech executives how he plans to act during the meeting on Friday. Ahead of Obama's speech on NSA reforms in January, the White House briefed a variety of stakeholders on the president’s proposed actions.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will be among the executives in attendance. Schmidt was a major donor to Democrats in 2012 and has been involved with the launch of Organizing for Action, the political advocacy group born out of the president's reelection campaign.

A representative for AOL said CEO Tim Armstrong was invited to the meeting, but was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

"But he is in direct communication with the White House and looks forward to the dialogue on this important issue," said AOL spokeswoman Caroline Campbell.

Reed Hastings of Netflix, Drew Houston of Dropbox, Alexander Karp of Palantir and Aaron Levie of Box were also expected to attend. 

— Kate Tummarello contributed to this post. This post was updated at 3:07 p.m.