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Updated: Tue, 17 Dec 2013 12:44:59 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Obama and tech giants to talk NSA, health-care website



The National Security Agency (© NSA)

The National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., is shown in this June 6, 2013 photo. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting with executives from leading tech companies at the White House this morning to discuss healthcare.gov, the troubled website for purchasing health insurance, but they will likely voice concerns over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

The White House says the group will discuss the capacity and performance of the website, which launched on Oct. 1, and how the government can better deliver IT generally.

The list of attendees includes the CEOs of Apple, Twitter, Etsy, Netflix, Dropbox, Yahoo and Comcast, and executives from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn and more.

These firms weren’t involved in building the healthcare.gov website, but Obama is meeting with them anyway to talk about it.The website, a signature piece of the Affordable Care Act, allows Americans to shop around online for health insurance plans but it was plagued with technical difficulties when it launched.

Some of the issues have finally been smoothed out now, but Obama is still retaining outside help to oversee the fixes. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday that former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over from Jeffrey Zients, who was recruited to help in October. 

What is more likely to dominate the conversationthan healthcare.gov is the NSA’s activities, which are of great concern to the big tech companies.

“The meeting will also address national security and the economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures,” according to the White House.

Major court ruling on NSA

Tuesday’s meeting follows a major court ruling Monday that described the NSA’s operations as “almost Orwellian,” and said they might be unconstitutional. It also comes soon after a public campaign by eight tech companies calling for governments around the world, but the U.S. in particular, to reform their surveillance programs.

The companies banded together and published an open letter in major newspapers and online that said they understand governments need to protect the safety and security of citizens, but that current laws and regulations need an overhaul.

They want an end to bulk collection of user data, more transparency about the scope of surveillance programs, and stronger checks and balances in the courts when governments seek to compel companies to hand over information.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in the letter that recent revelations about government surveillance programs have “shaken the trust of our users,” and that the U.S. government must act to restore confidence of citizens around the world.

The executives now have the chance to deliver their concerns and proposals for reform to the president directly during the meeting.

Monday's court ruling could reinforce the CEOs' concerns about the NSA's collection of phone data and other information. 

A federal judge ruled that the practices are likely unconstitutional and Judge Richard J. Leon said he could not imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than the systematic collection and retention of personal data that the NSA undertakes.

The backlash that followed ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations about the agency's activities  in June prompted Obama to ask for a review of the country's intelligence-gathering system.

An expert group convened to conduct part of the review provided a report to the president on Friday. It contains more than 40 recommendations and is expected to be made public in January.

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