White House, corporate data-collectors meet to trade favors

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama spent more than two hours Tuesday huddled with 15 of the nation’s top info-tech moguls, and all the public got was a lousy 239-word “readout” from the White House.

The vague and anodyne description of the meeting was bleached of drama or political details, even though the participants include Obama — who runs the National Security Agency — plus top executives from  Google, Facebook, AT&T, Yahoo and other firms.

Together, the companies collect and store vast amounts of data about individual Americans for advertising and marketing, while the NSA collects the data for use in a national security emergencies.

So Obama and the tech executives have a lot to trade and share: The business leaders really want the NSA to scale-back its online pursuit of jihadis and thieves, while the president wants the private sector to goose the economy, donate to his political campaigns and fix his crashed Obamacare website.

Obama also wants the tech companies to lobby GOP legislators for his transformative immigration bill, and they’re eager to help because the bill will allow them to import lots more foreign tech experts who will work for much less than comparable American graduates.

The companies also want Obama to lower corporate taxes, help them out on copyright issues, and to keep anti-trust questions off the front page.

Obama opened the meeting by complimenting the extremely ruthless, deal-making politician who is the central character in Netflix’s House of Cards TV-series. “This guy’s getting a lot of stuff done… I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,”  in D.C.., Obama to told Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hasting, who is a former Democratic official, and is a long-standing donor to Obama’s campaigns.

Reporters were allowed to film the opening moments of the meeting, but were excluded after a few minutes.

The only announced trade was the transfer of a top Microsoft executive to Obama’s team.

“The president also announced that Kurt DelBene, who most recently served as president of the Microsoft Office Division, will succeed [White House official] Jeff Zients as senior adviser to Secretary Sebelius [and] will lead our ongoing efforts to improve HealthCare.gov and the Health Insurance Marketplace starting this Wednesday,” said the readout.

The readout acknowledged that the president talked about the NSA’s ambitious effort to track jihadis conversations via the companies’ networks.

That long-standing surveillance helps expose jihadis plots, but really ticks off the tech chieftains, who don’t want to be viewed as American companies by potentially angry foreign governments and customers.

“The group discussed the national security and economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures,” said the readout. “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,” it 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 corporate executives also released their vague description.

“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,” said the joint statement from the executives.

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