President Barack Obama met with executives and experts from major global technological companies today at the White House. The techies were there out of concern for their various companies’ roles as sometimes-unwilling middleman facilitators in the National Security Agency’s spy dragnet behemoth.
People like Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, along with upper-level company reps from Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, AT&T and many other tech giants all sat down at one table with Obama for two and-a-half hours to urge for government reforms to the NSA’s bulk data surveillance program, in part to rehabilitate the private tech sector’s image among customers leery of its complicity in the NSA dragnet.
Several of those in attendance were co-authors of a group letter sent to the White House last week that criticized the government for aggrandizing power at the expense of individual rights.
“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,” that letter scolded.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, Obama wanted to devote equal time to Obamacare and Healthcare.gov – and the Technorati was having none of it.
The President’s repeated and jarring attempts to steer the conversation toward his signature “achievement” irritated the techies, who reported they did not feel comfortable talking about other aspects of Obama’s broader policy agenda when they were clearly there to talk about one thing: the tenuous intersection between government, technology and the private sector.
“That wasn’t what we came for,” one company VP told The Daily Mail. “We really didn’t care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal health care tech nightmare.”
Here’s more from that story:
One executive said that meeting participants were dead-set against straying from the principal focus of the meeting – the uncomfortable and legally untenable position they are in when the National Security Agency demands access to their digital records.
The White House said in advance that the meeting would include a discussion of Healthcare.gov, but the company executive said the only subject that mattered to the participants was the NSA.
“He basically hijacked the meeting,” the executive said. “We all told the White House that we were only there to talk about what the NSA was up to and how it affects us.”
Yet Obama, according to insiders, repeatedly peppered the discussion with reassuring words about how the Affordable Care Act’s marquee website was well on its way to becoming functional.
According to The Guardian, the tech execs were unwavering in their insistence on keeping the serious focus of the meeting on the matter at hand.
Senior executives from the companies whose bosses were present at the meeting said they were determined to keep the discussion focused on the NSA, despite the White House declaring in advance that it would focus on ways of improving the functionality of the troubled health insurance website, healthcare.gov, among other matters.
“That is not going to happen,” said an executive at one of the major tech companies represented at the meeting. “We are there to talk about the NSA,” said the executive, who was briefed on the company’s agenda before the event.
In light of the tech industry’s newly-galvanized solidarity against partnering with the Obama Administration to snoop on people, as well as a judge’s ruling Monday that the NSA has been violating 4th Amendment protections, Obama’s attempt to swerve the topic in other directions came off as especially inappropriate and self-serving.
As another unnamed executive told The Guardian afterward, “There’s only one subject that [industry] people really want to discuss right now.”
And it’s not Obamacare.