Tech CEOs to Obama: NSA's hacking hurt our business

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WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the nation's biggest technology firms warned President Barack Obama during a lengthy White House meeting Tuesday that National Security Agency spying programs are damaging their reputations and could harm the broader economy.

Cisco has said it is already seeing customers, especially those overseas, back away from U.S.-branded technology after documents revealed that the NSA enlisted tech firms and also secretly tapped into their data hubs around the world as the agency pursued terrorism suspects. Other companies -- such as IBM, AT&T and Verizon -- are facing angry shareholders, some of whom have filed lawsuits demanding that the companies disclose their participation in NSA intelligence programs.

Silicon Valley has been a critical driver of the economic recovery and has long represented the face of American ingenuity around the world.

Many of these companies say they are still trying to assess the damage caused by documentation of their work with intelligence officials, which was revealed by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

The morning meeting took on added import after a federal judge's ruling Monday that the NSA's program to conduct broad phone surveillance appears to be unconstitutional. That, along with the Silicon Valley and civil liberty advocates' outcry, is increasing pressure on the administration to curb NSA surveillance.

The gathering was scheduled for two hours but went well over that time, with the majority of the discussion focused on the companies' demands for government changes in NSA spying programs, according to tech industry officials familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the meeting.

Several executives came to the meeting particularly angered over a recent report in The Washington Post that revealed the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, were secretly tapping into the data connections that link Google and Yahoo servers around the world, industry officials said.

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? Really?" said one industry official familiar with the companies' views.

In the meeting, the executives reiterated a list of demands sent to the White House in a letter last week calling upon the administration to cease bulk data collection of emails, online address books and other personal information, to impose limits on how easily the NSA can obtain court orders for Internet data and to allow the companies to be more transparent about government intelligence requests.

"This 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," the White House said in a statement.

News photos of the meeting showed AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson smiling next to Mr. Obama and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer also smiling, seated next to Vice President Joe Biden. Also in attendance were the chief executives of Apple, Netflix and Twitter, among others. Microsoft, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Zynga senior executives also came.

"We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the president our principles on government surveillance that we released last week, and we urged him to move aggressively on reform," the technology firms said in a joint statement after the meeting.


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