Apple’s Tim Cook, tech executives meet with Barack Obama to talk surveillance

Barack Obama is shown. | AP PhotoPolitico – by Tony Romm

President Barack Obama hosted Apple CEO Tim Cook, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Google computer scientist Vint Cerf and other tech executives and civil liberties leaders on Thursday for a closed-door meeting about government surveillance, sources tell POLITICO.

The session, which Obama attended himself, followed a similar gathering earlier this week between top administration officials, tech-industry lobbyists and leading privacy hawks, the sources said. Those earlier, off-the-record discussions centered on the controversy surrounding the NSA as well as commercial privacy issues such as online tracking of consumers.  

The White House has declined to provide any details about its new outreach since the beginning of the week. A spokesman didn’t comment Thursday about the high-level meeting with the president — and the companies and groups invited also kept quiet when contacted by POLITICO.

Obama has promised more public debate about the country’s counterterrorism policies and privacy safeguards amid a deluge of criticism about the NSA’s controversial surveillance programs. As the steady stream of revelations continues, however, the White House has chosen to meet quietly with tech executives and consumer groups behind closed doors.

The administration’s outreach began Tuesday, when chief of staff Denis McDonough and general counsel Kathy Ruemmler convened a privacy-focused huddle in the Roosevelt Room. Joining them were representatives from the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet and TechAmerica, which together represent a diverse swath of the tech industry — from major defense contractors to companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center were also present, sources said.

While the White House at the time declined to comment, one administration aide, speaking to POLITICO ahead of the Tuesday session, portrayed it as part of a larger campaign.

“This is one of a number of discussions the administration is having with experts and stakeholders in response to the president’s directive to have a national dialogue about how to best protect privacy in a digital era, including how to respect privacy while defending our national security,” the official said.

The second meeting Thursday, however, was organized with greater secrecy.

Those invited were mostly senior executives, including Cook, Stephenson and Cerf, as well as representatives of groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and Gigi Sohn, the leader of Public Knowledge, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. Each declined comment for this story.

As the White House consulted with industry, though, some members of Congress continued their push for legislation adding new checks to federal surveillance programs.

“Trust and credibility depend on the appearance of fairness and accountability. My fear is that some of those agencies and institutions are in peril of losing it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a speech Thursday at Harvard Law School.

The senator is sponsoring a bill that would create a new, adversarial public-interest defender before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves government requests to companies for user data. And Blumenthal also seeks to redo the FISC judge selection process to get more diverse voices on its bench.

“The purpose of the debate is to make sure we have both liberty and security,” he said.

Michelle Quinn contributed to this report.

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2 thoughts on “Apple’s Tim Cook, tech executives meet with Barack Obama to talk surveillance

  1. Is it too much to ask Americans to boycott Apple, or will they gladly sacrifice their freedom for a new stupid gadget?

    These Apple worms are doing all they can to undermine our freedom and support the communist takeover, so if you insist on supporting them with your money, you’re my enemy, and I hope you die, because Apple makes absolutely NOTHING that you can’t easily do without.

    Restoring our republic is going to require unimaginable sacrifice on the part of everyone, so if you’re not even willing to forgo buying another stupid toy, you’re already in the way, and you’re not going to do anyone any good, except of course, for the enemy.

    1. The founders of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook etc. … these are all people who have forgotten where they came from and who supported them before the government got their hands on ’em. Sad to see they sold their souls.

      . . .

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