Obama talks surveillance with Apple, Google and AT&T

Barack Obama has hosted a private meeting attended by a number of tech and telecoms chiefs, as well as civil liberties leaders, to discuss US government surveillance, sources have told the Politico blog.

Amongst those present were Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google vice president and computer scientist Vint Cerf, AT&T boss Randall Stephenson and and Gigi Sohn, the leader of campaign group Public Knowledge.

The meeting was held last Thursday and was attended by Obama in person, the sources said. The White House and all involved parties have refused to comment on the talks.

US tech and telecoms firms are greatly concerned about the damage recent revelations about NSA snooping on customer's private information could have on their reputation and commercial interests, particularly abroad.

The meeting appears to be part of a wider move by the US government to engage with American tech firms and allow a public debate, although Obama has been keen to keep meetings with industry off the record and behind closed doors.

It follows a similar meeting hosted by Obama's chief of staff Denis McDonough and general counsel Kathy Ruemmler at the White House last Tuesday.

This meeting was attended by a greater number of representatives, including those from Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as groups such as the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Before the initial meeting, one Obama administration aide 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."