Obama talks surveillance with Apple, AT&T chiefs

Present at Thursday's confab were Apple's Tim Cook, AT&T's Randall Stephenson, and Google's Vint Cerf, along with other tech execs and civil liberty leaders, Politico says.

U.S. President Barack Obama met with a number of tech figures Thursday to discuss the future of technology and its role in surveillance.

According to Politico, anonymous sources say the meeting was a closed-door affair, following a similar, off-the-record meeting between U.S. administrators, lobbyists and leading privacy campaigners. Both secretive meetings focused on the NSA controversy, as well as broader issues -- including the online tracking of consumer behavior and patterns.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Google computer scientist Vint Cerf were present at Thursday's gathering, according to the report. In addition, other unnamed tech executives and civil liberty leaders attended.

Governmental surveillance practices have come to the forefront through the revelations of ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA surveillance program mines data and catalogs information from computer networks worldwide, and is not simply limited to American citizens. PRISM and Boundless Informant are two examples of how data is collected.

The government is said to have collected almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks in a single month this year -- and indexed almost 100 billion pieces of data worldwide.

President Obama has defended the controversial program, and has attempted to reassure the American public that "nobody is listening to your phone calls," but the revelations have sparked debate worldwide over how far governments should be able to spy on citizens.

A public debate has been promised amid NSA criticism; some organizations going so far as to close down their services to protect consumers from U.S. surveillance. Before the topic enters the public arena, however, the White House has met quietly with industry experts first.

On Tuesday, U.S. officials met with representatives of the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet and TechAmerica, which collectively represent companies including Facebook, Google and Yahoo, according to the publication's sources.

One unnamed official told Politico:

"This is one of a number of discussions the administration is having with experts and stakeholders in response to the president's directive to have a national dialogue about how to best protect privacy in a digital era, including how to respect privacy while defending our national security."

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "Apple CEO, President Obama meet to discuss tech surveillance."