President Barack Obama reassured top tech and internet company executives like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt that an impending review of NSA policies will protect their users’ privacy.
The Friday meeting — disclosed to the public by the president’s staff only on late Thursday of this week — comes just seven days shy of the March 28 deadline that the Department of Justice has to announce specific reforms to the National Security Agency’s practices in the midst of ongoing revelations about the NSA’s previously unknown surveillance operations.
Now as concerns about possible collusion between the US government and Silicon Valley continue to linger, the president held the last minute meeting with some of the biggest names in the American tech industry, according to the White House, to give an update of the review and to discuss “the issues of privacy, technology and intelligence.”
“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 in a statement about the meeting.
None of the participants in the meeting spoke to the press afterwards.
In addition to Zuckerberg and Schmidt, also reportedly in attendance were representatives from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Netflix, Dropbox, file-sharing site Box, and Palantir.
Palantir was launched in 2004 with the help of $2 million from the Central Intelligence Agency’s venture arm, In-Q-Tel, and remains involved in numerous government projects.
The meeting also occurred only one week after Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old co-founder of the world’s most widely-used social network site, said he personally called up President Obama after becoming “confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government.”
That phone call occurred just hours after The Intercept online magazine published classified NSA documents disclosed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in which the US spy agency was shown to have operated computers that masqueraded as Facebook servers in order to trick surveillance targets into installing malware on their computers.
On Thursday, The Intercept again published new information pertaining to a program code-named QUANTUM that lets the NSA attempt to infect the computers of innocent systems administers using the Facebook trick to spy on foreign computer networks.
“When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” Zuckerberg wrote last week.“The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat.”
“It seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform,” Zuckerberg said at the time. Attorney General Eric Holder has since insisted that the Justice Dept. will make next week’s deadline, however, and at that point the Obama administration is expected to finally acknowledge what changes will be made.
Last December, a five-person independent review group established by President Obama to evaluate the NSA’s operations published a report containing 46 recommendations for the US intelligence community to consider. Just one day earlier, officials from Apple, Yahoo, Google, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Netflix met with executive branch staffers at the White House to discuss issues raised by Snowden’s disclosures.
“Revelations about US surveillance have threatened to undermine the US Internet freedom agenda,” the group said then. Further leaked NSA documents disclosed by Snowden in the months since have only raised concerns made by computer experts and the public alike about the government’s role with regards to compromising the internet in an effort to increase surveillance abilities and expand intelligence gathering practices.
Though this week, the NSA’s top lawyer said that top tech companies were aware of major agency surveillance programs that accessed the companies’ servers full of customer data.