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Obama's Surveillance Reform Speech Draws Tepid Tech Response

Hardly a "Yes We Can" moment for the President.

Max Herman / Shutterstock

President Barack Obama took to the national stage on Friday, delivering for the first time some concessions to Americans concerned about the extent to which the National Security Agency spies on domestic electronic communications.

And from the gallery came a resounding “meh.”

It was not what was in the President’s speech that was particularly noteworthy, as The New York Times aptly put it, but what was left out entirely. President Obama neglected to address many of the worries of the world’s largest tech companies — like Apple, Facebook, and Google, among others — delivering no assurances that the NSA would give up its practice of monitoring and sucking up the billions of bytes of data flowing to and from these companies’ users on a daily basis. It was a practice Google’s Eric Schmidt called “outrageous” at best and potentially illegal late last year.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital rights advocacy group, gave the President’s speech a 3.5 out of 12 points with regard to addressing all of the major points of contention over NSA practices.

Nor did it assuage concerns from these companies, as Wired noted, that the government would eventually institute an email metadata collection program similar to its existing phone number and call duration monitoring habits.

The President instead leaned on promises to carry out studies on tech industry complaints, rather than making any major sweeping reforms to the NSA’s existing practices.

On Sunday morning, a spokesman for Reform Government Surveillance — a coalition formed by a handful of Silicon Valley’s biggest Internet companies — said in a prepared statement that while President Obama’s speech made some “positive progress on key issues,” “crucial details remain to be addressed” in some areas, while “additional steps are needed on other important issues.”

Hacker News, a popular message board used and monitored by many active Valley types and tech employees, was exploded. Among the chief complaints, many cited President Obama’s lack of specific commitments, while criticizing his over-reliance on setting up review committees to study the tech and telecommunications sectors’ complaints.

“[This is] just enough to make it look like he’s doing something,” Hacker News commenter WalterSear said.

Head over to Politico for a telecom sector perspective. Or check out The Verge — which has been particularly vocal in its criticisms — for its own scorecard on the President’s speech.

This article originally appeared on

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