Obama meets Facebook and Google bosses to discuss NSA - Zuckerberg presses for answers

By Malarie Gokey, Tech Times | March 23, 5:00 PM

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Mark Zuckerberg meets Barack Obama

President Barack Obama met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and other tech industry leaders on Friday to discuss NSA spying once again. Obama set up a second meeting with tech executives, after Zuckerberg expressed concern over a new report from Edward Snowden.
(Photo : White House | Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama met with leading tech industry executives once again on Friday to discuss reforming the government's system of Internet surveillance. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the lead, demanding that the NSA be stopped, one way or the other.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings, Box Chief Executive Aaron Levie and Palantir Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Alexander Karp all attended the meeting.

Obama sought to reassure the country's leading tech executives that the federal government is taking their recommendations seriously and plans to explore ways to improve the program. In January, Obama passed a few reforms, which limited NSA spying on diplomats and other foreign dignitaries, but kept most of the program intact.

The most controversial and intrusive form of surveillance, the collection and storage of metadata from millions of Americans, still exists. Next week, this mass collection of metadata is up for re-authorization. Internet rights activists like Edward Snowden, who exposed the program last year, as well as the majority of tech executives, demand that this part of the program be terminated.

Tech leaders remain doubtful that meaningful reform to NSA surveillance will be passed any time soon. For its part, the White House declared that it will ensure that the program is thoroughly reviewed and reformed.

"The president reiterated his administration's commitment to taking steps that can give people greater confidence that their rights are being protected while preserving important tools that keep us safe," the White House said after the meeting.

However, tech executives still remained skeptical, even after Friday's meeting. Although none of the executives stuck around to speak with the press, the NSA's most vocal tech executive opponent, Zuckerberg, issued a statement.

"While the U.S. government has taken helpful steps to reform its surveillance practices, these are simply not enough," Zuckerberg said through a spokesperson after the meeting.

"People around the globe deserve to know that their information is secure and Facebook will keep urging the U.S. government to be more transparent about its practices and more protective of civil liberties," he said.

Zuckerberg has been openly critical of the Obama administration's unwillingness to curb the NSA surveillance program.

On March 13, Zuckerberg took to Facebook to advocate for government reform of the NSA surveillance program. He rallied against claims that the Internet must be policed by governments and stressed the importance of quick action. Zuckerberg's call to Obama and his subsequent post about the call, undoubtedly inspired Obama to hold yet another meeting with tech executives on the subject of NSA surveillance.

"The Internet works because most people and companies do the same. We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world," Zuckerberg wrote. "That is why I've been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the U.S. government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we're protecting you against criminals, not our own government."

In his post, Zuckerberg also acknowledged that he called Obama last week "to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future," but added that he doesn't think that the government will provide meaningful reform any time soon.

"So it's up to us -- all of us -- to build the Internet we want," Zuckerberg concluded. "Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I'm committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part."

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