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Obama invites CEOs from Google, Facebook to discuss U.S. spying

By Roger Runningen and Chris Strohm
Bloomberg News

President Barack Obama has invited the leaders of Internet and technology companies to meet in the Oval Office following revelations that the National Security Agency may have infected millions of computers globally with malware.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., and Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s executive chairman, will attend today’s meeting, according to a person familiar with the event who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

Yahoo! Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer was invited to attend the meeting yet declined because she couldn’t make it on such short notice. The company intends to remain part of the ongoing discussions going forward, according to a company spokeswoman.

The meeting comes after Zuckerberg said in a blog post that he called Obama to express his frustration over the government’s spying.

“The U.S. government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat,” Zuckerberg wrote in a March 13 post on his Facebook page. “They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”

Zuckerberg’s comments follow reports that the NSA may have infected computers with malware and disguising itself as Facebook servers to gain access to users’ data for spying, according to documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden to the online news site The Intercept.

It was the latest of several revelations about government surveillance that led Facebook, Google, Apple Inc. and other companies to call on Obama to restrain U.S. spying programs and disclose more about government requests for user data.

NSA Recommendations

The meeting also comes as a March 28 deadline approaches under which Obama is seeking recommendations to end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Internet companies are closely watching what Obama decides to do about the collection of bulk phone records, because the spying is done under a broad authority that could also include the interception of Internet data, the person familiar with today’s event said.

Zuckerberg is among the chief executive officers invited to the meeting, an administration official said. The White House declined to otherwise immediately release a list of the invited chief executives.

Government Orders

The president on Dec. 17 met with a group of technology leaders at the White House to discuss revelations about how the NSA was using information from technology and telecommunications companies for surveillance. The chief executives who attended that meeting included Apple’s Tim Cook, Netflix Inc.’s Reed Hastings, Comcast Corp.’s Brian Roberts, and Schmidt, among other executives.

In January, Google, Apple and other technology companies won U.S. permission to disclose more about government orders for customer data, a step they sought to fortify their reputations after revelations about their role in U.S. spying.

Companies including Apple, which was the first to report details allowed under the agreement with the Justice Department, are allowed to say broadly how many accounts are covered by government requests and whether the content of users’ communications was sought.



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