President Obama has met with executives from Apple, AT&T, and other technology giants reportedly to discuss the need to balance government surveillance and personal privacy rights. After Politico.com broke the news regarding the previously secret meeting, the White House confirmed that Apple's Tim Cook, AT&T's Randall Stephenson, and Vint Cerf from Google all participated in the discussion.
Although we know that the meeting did occur, details regarding discussion topics or conclusions were not released. Obama's daily schedule did not reference the meeting either. The main focus of the meeting was presumably how to respect the privacy of individual citizens without compromising national security .
These discussions appear to be part of an ongoing attempt at a 'meeting of the minds' between the tech industry and the U.S. government. Following Edward Snowden's NSA leaks and other information that came to light earlier this year, Obama and some larger tech companies including Apple and Google have faced criticism from users who feel that their personal information has not been adequately protected.
Since 2008, when the government apparently decided that monitoring emails and messages of American citizens was allowed, as long as they were talking to a potential terrorist overseas, many people and privacy advocates have been angry and concerned. Now, with revelations that a "terrorist overseas" means that the analyst has a 51% positive hunch that the person is not in the U.S., even more Americans are concerned.
With numerous tech companies named by Snowden as submitting themselves to surveillance by the U.S. government, many users have scoured the Internet for alternative email providers. Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others were all named by Snowden when he discussed which tech companies have allowed the government to look at user data .
Not only are several tech companies attempting to fix their reputation with regard to protecting customer data, but some observers suggest Obama may also be trying to save face. Instead of being known as a president who could not stand up to the NSA and other government agencies, he may be doing his best to make a stand for individual rights to privacy. Meeting with leaders from corporate America as well as Internet freedom activists, such as representatives from the Center for Democracy, may indeed prove helpful.
One official from the White House reportedly told Politico, "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."
Even though many members of government seem to keep getting tripped up at the "while defending our national security" part of the dialogue, the White House could be moving in the right direction, at least in terms of responding to privacy advocates shocked by recent revelations of government surveillance tactics.