Zuckerberg, Schmidt and other tech CEOs to raise NSA concerns with Obama - again

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt and other top Silicon Valley executives are going back to the White House today to press their complaints about the government’s controversial Internet spying programs.

The meeting on Friday afternoon comes a week after Zuckerberg personally phoned President Obama – to express his frustration about “the damage the government is creating for all of our future” – following a news report that said the National Security Agency had developed a way of installing spy software on targeted computers by masquerading as a Facebook network server.

It’s not clear what will come out of the meeting, which was first reported Thursday by Politico.  This marks the second time in recent months that tech industry leaders have raised their concerns in a sit-down session with Obama. While the president clearly wants to keep the techies on friendly terms, he hasn’t really backed down from defending the NSA and arguing that it only does what’s necessary to protect the country.

Obama is considering some limited reforms, however, and it’s likely those will come up for discussion. Leading tech companies, meanwhile, are pressing ahead with their own efforts to guard against government surveillance.

Google, for example, said this week that “due to last summer’s revelations” – a clear reference to the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – the company is now automatically encrypting all messages on its popular Gmail service as they pass between users and Google’s servers, AND as they move between Google’s data centers.

At least one company may be in a glass-houses situation, however. Microsoft, which has joined industry calls for reining back government snooping, found itself admitting this week that it had searched through the emails on a tech blogger’s Hotmail account in order to find an employee who leaked confidential product information.

Microsoft said the search was within its rights under Hotmail’s terms of service, while critics said the search seemed both hypocritical and potentially threatening to the ability of journalists to do their jobs. Microsoft appeared to acknowledge the critics by saying it will ask a retired judge to review the circumstances before it does something like that again.

(We can’t resist re-printing this photo by Gary Reyes/Mercury News of Zuckerberg and Obama during the President’s visit to Facebook’s offices in 2011.) 

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (350 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.