Obama Meets Internet CEOs To Discuss Privacy Issues President Obama met Friday with executives from several high-profile tech companies worried over government surveillance practices, a topic that scrambles the usual political landscape.
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Obama Meets Internet CEOs To Discuss Privacy Issues

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Obama Meets Internet CEOs To Discuss Privacy Issues

Obama Meets Internet CEOs To Discuss Privacy Issues

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Technology and privacy topped the agenda at the White House this afternoon. Leaders from the likes of Google, Facebook and Netflix held a closed-door meeting with President Obama. Aides say the president called the meeting with tech CEOs to further address concerns about government surveillance. Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg complained this month that the government needs to be much more transparent about how it's collecting information.

A week from today, court authorization for the NSA's program to collect telephone data runs out. NPR's Scott Horsley reports the administration has to decide how to replace it.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: High-tech CEOs are not the obvious messengers to be delivering a privacy lecture to the government. After all, they make their money by scanning customers' emails and tracking their movements, all with the goal of serving up more targeted ads. Just a few years ago, Google's Eric Schmidt told an interviewer, if you have something you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

But Marc Rotenberg, who directs the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the titans of Silicon Valley have suddenly gotten religion.

MARC ROTENBERG: The Internet leaders who might have said a few years ago, you know, privacy is a thing of the past, today they're at the White House telling the president we need to find a way to protect privacy. And that's a remarkable turn of events.

HORSLEY: What changed, of course, is the revelation by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of just how widespread the government's snooping has been, often with the help, knowingly or unknowingly, of those same high-tech companies.

ROTENBERG: Mr. Snowden has done more to raise the level of public awareness about privacy issues probably than anyone else I can think of.

HORSLEY: Since the Snowden leaks began last summer, public opinion towards government surveillance has steadily soured. Fifty-three percent of Americans now disapprove of the NSA's spying. Pollster Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center says this is the rare issue that unites Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats.

CARROLL DOHERTY: It's really an area on which you do find common ground between conservatives and liberals. Consistently across these polls, liberals and conservatives are expressing the most concern about it, whereas people in the middle of the electorate are somewhat less concerned.

HORSLEY: Disapproval of government surveillance is strongest among people under the age of 30. While this generation shows little reluctance to document their every movement on electronic devices, Doherty says they don't like the government looking over their shoulders.

DOHERTY: They are concerned about privacy. They really are. And this issue has clicked a bit with young people.

HORSLEY: President Obama has promised to make some adjustments, particularly to the program under which the NSA has been stockpiling telephone records. When he sketched out his proposals in January, Obama insisted that government workers who carry out surveillance do take privacy concerns seriously.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and email and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

HORSLEY: Privacy advocate Rotenberg says Internet companies could reduce the temptation for government spying if they simply stopped storing years' worth of personal data about their customers. So far, though, the companies haven't been willing to take that step. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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