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Tech execs press Obama to fix spying rules

Officials from Facebook, Google and other companies say urgent reforms are needed to protect privacy.

Last updated: 18 Dec 2013 00:10
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The NSA's practices essentially made technology companies partners in the government's surveillance efforts [AFP]

Technology company executives have pressed the US president to rein in the government's electronic spying after a court dealt a blow to the administration's surveillance practices.

Corporate leaders of tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter met privately with President Barack Obama on Tuesday to discuss the White House's technology agenda, but the issue of the National Security Agency surveillance programme dominated the discussion.

We urge him [Obama] to move aggressively on reform.

Tech executives on surveillance programme

In a brief statement released after the session, the tech companies focused solely on government surveillance, not on the government's effort to talk up repairs on the healthcare reform website.

"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 technology companies said.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that the Obama administration has approved a sweeping surveillance programme targeting top officials and private citizens in the US and abroad.  

The NSA's practices essentially made the technology companies partners in the surveillance efforts.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the meeting as constructive and "not at all contentious".

Obama and his top aides, including national security adviser Susan Rice and counterterrorism aide Lisa Monaco, listened closely to the company executives' ideas and concerns, the official added.

After the meeting, the White House said the national security and economic impacts of unauthorised intelligence disclosures had been discussed.

"The president made clear his belief in an open, free and innovative internet and listened to the group's concerns and recommendations," said an administration statement.

Protection of privacy

The meeting came as Obama and his national security team nears completion on a landmark intelligence review.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reports about the meeting between Obama and top tech executives.

"This was a convesation that they [tech executives] wanted much more than [Obama] did,"  Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reported from Washington.

Last week, eight tech companies launched a campaign demanding reform on surveillance practices to protect privacy, writing an open letter to Obama and Congress on the issue.

They said revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had highlighted an urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.

A representative from one of the companies, who asked not to be identified, said the White House had wanted to meet to discuss the HealthCare.gov website.

The invitations were sent before the White House received the tech companies' open letter.

Documents provided by Snowden showed that a US surveillance court had secretly approved the collection of raw daily phone records in the US.

Other revelations have included reports that US monitoring extended to some foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Adding to the pressure on Obama was a federal judge's ruling on Monday that the US government's gathering of Americans' phone records was likely unlawful.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen," US District Judge Richard Leon wrote in his ruling.

Al Jazeera's Fisher said the judge's decision "has lit a fire" among those who oppose the government's surveillance programme.

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