Facebook Inc. (FB) Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg left a meeting with President Barack Obama unsatisfied with administration assurances that the government can protect privacy while continuing surveillance.
Zuckerberg and five other Internet and technology executives were invited to the White House yesterday to discuss National Security Agency spying following revelations the NSA may have infected millions of computers globally with malware to advance surveillance.
“While the U.S. government has taken helpful steps to reform its surveillance practices, these are simply not enough,” Facebook said in a statement released 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.”
Facebook, Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) are among the companies that have been pressing the administration to restrain spying following revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance and data collection by fugitive former contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA’s global sweep also has drawn protest from other nations, including NATO ally Germany.
Obama has said his administration already ended some of the surveillance practices disclosed by Snowden and in January promised further restraints while defending spying as a bulwark against terrorism.
At yesterday’s meeting, Obama told the executives he wants to balance security needs with online privacy, updating them on changes made since his Jan. 17 directive and about a review on so-called big data being conducted by adviser John Podesta, according to a White House statement released after the meeting.
Obama told them he’s committed to “taking steps that can give people greater confidence that their rights are being protected while preserving important tools that keep us safe,” according to the statement.
Zuckerberg was joined at the meeting by Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, and CEOs Reed Hastings of Netflix Inc. (NFLX), Drew Houston of Dropbox Inc., Alex Karp of Palantir Technologies Inc. and Aaron Levie of Box Inc., according to the White House.
Lisa Gordon, a spokeswoman for Palantir, said she wouldn’t issue a comment on the meeting because it was an off-the-record session.
Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer was invited to attend the meeting yet declined because she couldn’t make it on short notice. The company will remain part of the discussions going forward, according to a company spokeswoman. Microsoft Corp., LinkedIn Corp. and Twitter Inc. also weren’t represented because their chief executives couldn’t make it.
The meeting was arranged after Zuckerberg said he called Obama to express his frustration over the government’s spying.
“The U.S. government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat,” Zuckerberg wrote in a March 13 post on his Facebook page. “They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”
Zuckerberg’s comments followed reports that the NSA may have infected computers with malware and disguised itself as a Facebook server to gain access to users’ data for spying, according to documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden to the online news site The Intercept.
The meeting also preceded a March 28 deadline under which Obama is seeking recommendations to end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Internet companies are closely watching what Obama decides to do about the collection of bulk phone records, because the spying is done under a broad authority that could also include the interception of Internet data, said a person familiar with yesterday’s gathering who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
In January, Google, Apple and other technology companies won U.S. permission to disclose more about government orders for customer data, a step they sought to fortify their reputations after revelations about their role in U.S. spying.
Companies including Apple, which was the first to report details allowed under the agreement with the Justice Department, are permitted to say broadly how many accounts are covered by government requests and whether the content of users’ communications was sought.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at firstname.lastname@example.org Joe Sobczyk, Don Frederick