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March 23, 2014

Obama reassures Internet CEOs on tech privacy

WASHINGTON — A week before a self-imposed deadline for a review of National Security Agency programs, President Barack Obama sought Friday to assure leading Internet and tech executives that his administration is committed to protecting people’s privacy.

CEOs from Facebook, Google, Netflix and others spent more than two hours with Obama in the Oval Office discussing their concerns about NSA spying programs, which have drawn outrage from tech companies whose data have been scooped up by the government. Joining Obama and the CEOs were Obama’s commerce secretary, homeland security adviser, and counselor John Podesta, whom Obama has tasked with leading a review of privacy and “big data.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues departed the White House without speaking to reporters. The White House said Obama gave the CEOs an update on the big data review, which is examining the complex and evolving relationship between the government, its citizens and their private information.

“The president reiterated his administration’s commitment to taking steps that can give people greater confidence that their rights are being protected while preserving important tools that keep us safe,” the White House said in a statement.

Separate from the big data review, Obama in January directed the government to develop and present alternatives for who should store the phone records from hundreds of millions of Americans that the NSA holds. Obama gave the Justice Department until March 28 to report back, with an eye toward eventually stripping the massive data collection from the government’s hands.

That review and other limits on secret spying were prompted by disclosures from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden that enraged Internet companies like Google when it was alleged that the NSA had secretly tapped into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.

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