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Obama meets heads of Twitter, Facebook and Apple to discuss NSA spying

The internet company bosses fear that NSA operations have crossed constitutional lines and infringe the privacy of their customers.

imageFrom left, Mark Pincus, founder, Chief Product Officer & Chairman, Zynga, Marissa Mayer, President and CEO, Yahoo!, and President Barack Obama. (Pic: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

BOSSES FROM INTERNET giants including Twitter and Facebook yesterday me US President Barack Obama and pushed for reforms of US spy agency snooping, adding to rising heat from the courts and American allies.

Obama met the group of the country’s most iconic Silicon Valley firms including Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Eric Schmidt of Google and Dick Costolo of Twitter.

They spent two hours discussing the National Security Agency’s clandestine electronic data mining operation, known as PRISM, a participant in the meeting said.

The internet company bosses fear that NSA operations have crossed constitutional lines and infringe the privacy of their customers and users in the United States and abroad and could also impact their economic bottom lines.

“We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the President our principles on government surveillance,” said a representative of the companies after the meeting ended.

“We urge him to move aggressively on reform.”

Another participant said the session started with a discussion on attempts to repair the Healthcare.gov website that undermined the rollout of Obama’s health care reform package.

Then, the president and Vice President Joe Biden spent two hours going through the implications of NSA programs.

The talks focused on reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which regulates clandestine eavesdropping, electronic privacy legislation and other legal issues.

The participant said the internet firm executives laid out their case for transparency in the programs.

Eight leading US-based technology companies last week called on Washington to overhaul its surveillance laws following revelations of online eavesdropping.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution,” they wrote in an open letter to Obama.

imageNSA Director, General Keith Alexander prepares to testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Pic: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Federal court ruling

The meeting came a day after a US court ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone records was probably unconstitutional.

It also took place as Obama considers the findings of an intelligence review panel he set up to recommend reform of spy agency snooping in the wake of revelations by fugitive intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

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The meeting, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, was closed to the reporters and Obama made no public remarks. Press photographers were allowed into the room for less than a minute.

Obama was familiar with many of the people in the meeting — a number are high-profile and wealthy supporters of his political campaigns.

But the revelations of a massive US spy snooping program on the Internet have strained ties between the White House and the US tech sector.

The White House said in a statement that Obama made clear his belief in an open, free and innovative Internet:

We will consider their input as well as the input of other outside stakeholders as we finalize our review of signals intelligence programs.

Obama is expected to address the American people in January about intelligence reforms he will undertake after considering the review panel report.

Aides say he will propose some restraints on snooping on Internet and telephone data but is believed to be committed to permitting NSA data mining to continue, as US spy chiefs say it is vital to their campaign against terrorism.

A federal judge in Washington on Monday ruled that the NSA program was the “almost Orwellian” and likely unconstitutional, in the first stage of a battle likely to end in the Supreme Court.

“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 Court Judge Richard Leon said.

© – AFP 2013

Read: Snowden offers Brazil help in investigating spying in exchange for asylum >

Read: Major tech companies ask US government to reform surveillance laws >

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