Cloud firms discuss NSA spying, healthcare.gov with Obama
US President Barack Obama met with executives from some of America’s largest cloud and IT service providers to discuss the government’s surveillance activities and its troubled healthcare.gov site Tuesday. The move came a day after a US Federal Court judged said in a ruling that the NSA’s mass surveillance activities are “likely unconstitutional.”
President Obama and senior US government officials met with executives from Twitter, AT&T, Dropbox, Microsoft, Comcast, Google and other cloud service providers and technology firms to discuss a range of topics that included the administration’s troubled healthcare.gov website, federal government procurement
The White House said in a statement that it wanted to focus the discussion on “progress made in addressing performance and capacity issues with healthcare.gov and how government can better deliver IT” with the tech firms.
“The meeting will also address national security and the economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures,” it said.
At the meeting Obama announced that Kurt DelBene, who served as president of the Microsoft Office division at the software company will lead the administration’s ongoing efforts to improve HealthCare.gov and the Health Insurance Marketplace, replacing Jeff Zients as senior advisor to Secretary Sebelius.
The companies also discussed how to improve IT procurement in the federal public sector, White House officials said.
But in a statement released to the press the companies that participated with the discussions focused primarily on surveillance reform, without any mention of the other issues initially outlined by White House officials.
“We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the president our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urge him to move aggressively on reform,” the companies said.
The meeting took place as president Obama and national security officials decide on a strategy for surveillance reform in the wake of NSA-related revelations that have left many in and outside the US deeply concerned how these organisations access and use their data.
Pressure is mounting on the US government to impose more restrictions on the ways it gathers digital information, an effort that may accelerate following the conclusion of a court case Monday which saw a US federal judge rule that the NSA’s digital mass surveillance practices are likely “unconstitutional”.
“This [meeting] was an opportunity for the president to hear from CEOs directly as we near completion of our review of signals intelligence programs, building on the feedback we’ve received from the private sector in recent weeks and months,” White House officials said
“The president made clear his belief in an open, free, and innovative internet and listened to the group’s concerns and recommendations, and made clear that we will consider their input as well as the input of other outside stakeholders as we finalize our review of signals intelligence programs,” the officials said.
While neither the White House nor the companies invited there Tuesday are commenting on exactly what recommendations were made, many of the companies that participated with the discussions were among those that penned an open letter to the US president and members of US Congress last week, urging them to accelerate reforms to the way the US conducts surveillance activities and adopt a series of guiding principles limiting those practices.
The companies believe a lack of transparency surrounding these activities poses a tangible threat to their businesses, with enterprises potentially moving to seek out services provided outside the US due to a crisis of trust some analysts suggest could cost US providers up to $35bn.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president, legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft said last week. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”