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'Pardon Snowden,' one tech exec tells Obama, report says

At a meeting between Obama and the leaders of major technology companies, Zynga founder Mark Pincus is said to have asked the president to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
2 min read
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden meet with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Zynga CEO Mark Pincus in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on December 17. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It's a refrain that President Obama has heard from critics of the NSA's surreptitious surveillance of the American public: Pardon Edward Snowden.

And now you can add at least one executive from a major tech company to that list.

Zynga founder Mark Pincus has asked Obama about pardoning Snowden, CNN reports.

Obama met Tuesday with 15 tech executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, with the official purpose of discussing how his administration can improve its Healthcare.gov Web site. Just this week, Obama hired Microsoft veteran Kurt DelBene to lead the revamp of the site.

But in addition to discussing the challenges in improving a complex site fraught with failure like the one brought into being by the Affordable Care Act, the Silicon Valley elite apparently didn't mince words when talking to the president about the National Security Agency and the massive, detailed leaks by former NSA contractor and now Russian exile Edward Snowden.

Tech and telephony companies have been heavily criticized for turning their customers' data over to the government as a whole

and to the NSA specifically, and reports indicate that they're losing business abroad with each new leaked revelation.

To the suggestion that he pardon Snowden of the felony charges against him for leaking classified information, Obama said he could not, according to an unnamed "industry official" cited by the Washington Post. The Obama administration has stated that if Snowden were to return to the United States, he would receive protection under due process laws.

Snowden has been charged with three felonies, two under the 1917 Espionage Act. He's the seventh person to be charged by the Obama administration with Espionage Act violations, more than all previous Espionage Act-related charges combined.

Senior Obama administration officials told the Post that the meeting was "constructive, not at all contentious." The executives also discussed the economic impact of the surveillance revelations on their bottom line, and the White House said in a statement that the president believes in an "open, free, and innovative Internet" and that he took the group's concerns seriously.

Many of the attendees had raised significant amounts of money for Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.

The meeting followed news on Monday that a judge had ruled the NSA's bulk collection of data unconstitutional, and details of the meeting's conversations came amid reports Wednesday that a White House surveillance review board recommended that the NSA abandon its phone record collection program.

Update, 3:50 p.m. PT: Adds that Zynga founder Mark Pincus is the executive who asked Obama about pardoning Snowden.