Google, Apple Ambush Obama Over NSA During Routine Healthcare.gov Chat
On the heels of an landmark ruling that ruled the activities of the National Security Administration potentially unconstitutional, a group of tech giants met up with President Obama Tuesday for a scheduled promotional chit-chat for Obama's improved Heathcare.gov. Except things didn't quite go to plan: the business leaders of Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, plus nine other companies, had something else in mind: those NSA surveillance programs.
You might remember that a group of industry giants had sent a letter to the White House last week expressing their concern about the surveillance program, writing that it threatened the "freedoms we all cherish." Oh, and just as a side note, the programs could affect business, because people are kinda hesitant to buy products with which they can be spied on.
So, with the "broader economic impact" of this sales-downturn looming, the 15 tech companies took the two-hour Tuesday meeting largely into their own hands.
"We didn't fly across the country for a discussion on HealthCare.gov," said one of the titans, according to a CNN report.
So what happened? Well, during the meeting, Cisco executives informed Obama that sales of American-branded products had dropped overseas, thanks to the now-known capability of the NSA to drop into data hubs. Telecommunications companies such as AT&T are also facing shareholders' wrath. According to anonymous officials speaking to the Washington Times, the group also pressed Obama for greater transparency about the who, what, when, where, and why regarding the surveillance programs.
They also apparently reminded Obama that without limits of surveillance, the credibility of the U.S. government was in peril. All in all, they were pretty blunt.
Their message was to say: “What the hell are you doing? Are you really hacking into the infrastructure of American companies overseas? The same American companies that cooperate with your lawful orders and spend a lot of money to comply with them to facilitate your intelligence collection?” said one industry official familiar with the companies’ views.
And Obama's reaction? Well, he said he would include their concerns in a forthcoming review of NSA procedures, which is the diplomatic version of a pat on the head.
Both sides seemed to leave the meeting frustrated. But the statements released by each make their priorities clear: While the tech giants' joint statement made no mention of Healthcare.gov, the White House said that the "group discussed a number of issues of shared importance to the federal government and the tech sector," including the healthcare website, and said that Obama had "made clear" his beliefs about an "open, free" internet.
Today, the president, along with Michelle, are going to try talking up the whole healthcare thing again — this time bringing in a bunch of moms to the Oval Office to promote it.