Top representatives from Apple and Google met with spy chiefs at an 18th-century mansion last week to talk about the growing public concern over government surveillance, according to The Intercept.
The secretive meeting took place over the course of three days at a conference hosted by The Ditchley Foundation at its countryside mansion in England, where everything discussed was under a strict confidentiality agreement called the Chatham House Rule.
Under the Chatham House Rule, “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
Spy chiefs from seven countries spanning from the U.S. to Australia met with tech giants including Apple, Google, and Vodafone to discuss the balance between national security, bulk surveillance, and personal privacy in the wake of the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
According to the leaked itinerary obtained by The Intercept, the conference’s agenda included topics such as “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance?’, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity,” and “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?”
Spies and top leaders were attendance from the following organisations: the CIA, President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the National Crime Agency, the German federal intelligence service the BND, Sweden’s surveillance agency the FRA, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
Leading the entire conference was former British M16 spy chief Sir John Scarlett, according to The Intercept, who led talks about how the leaked information on the bulk data collection programs by Snowden had changed the landscape of government surveillance.
“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” investigative reporter Duncan Cambell told The Intercept after attending the event.
“Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden — love him or hate him — had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”
As to why both Apple and Google sent representatives to the conference, the two tech companies have publically voiced their concerns about government surveillance programs such as PRISM — a program to gather data from tech companies — after facing criticism for their perceived involvement in the handing over private information to the US government.
Apple, in particular, has faced public pressure from the NSA and FBI to make its iPhones and encrypted data more accessible to law enforcement, while Apple CEO Tim Cook has criticised the idea of installing any software back-doors on its devices, stating that “Everyone has a right to privacy and security.”