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Obama faces privacy questions as he raises them with Chinese leader

June 07, 2013|By Christi Parsons

SAN JOSE — President Obama plans to take up the subject of cyber security with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday as the two meet behind closed doors for what U.S. officials hope will be a rapport-building session between the two leaders.

But the meeting unfolds in an atmosphere of newly heightened concern about the Obama administration’s own policies toward the privacy of American citizens, likely to distract the public attention’s from the high-stakes meeting in Southern California.

As Obama made his way here for fundraising events on Thursday, his staff struggled to downplay the importance of new revelations about the wide-ranging nature of the government’s use of telephone records to search out terrorist plots in the U.S.

The Patriot Act has allowed the government to collect such records since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the actual practices of collecting the voluminous data from telecommunications companies had been largely invisible to the public until Thursday’s revelation of a court order allowing the government access to three months of Verizon records.

The president has worked hard to “strike the right balance” between the needs for privacy and security, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday. Obama did not talk about the matter that day.

On Friday, Obama plans to talk about other domestic subjects as he discusses implementation of his healthcare law and raises money for fellow Democrats at a mid-day event in Santa Monica.

The centerpiece of his trip to California, though, is a closed-door session with Xi set to begin late Friday afternoon on the grounds of the luxurious Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage.

A top item on Obama’s to-do list is to broach the subject of cyber security with Xi, whose government the Obama administration has accused of launching sophisticated cyber attacks on U.S. computer networks in an effort to steal government and commercial secrets.

One of Obama’s challenges is to raise that concern without alienating Xi. The larger purpose of the session is to build a relationship with the new Chinese leader that will pave the way for the two men to work together on a range of difficult issues.

In public, Obama will have several opportunities to speak to the issue if he so chooses, including after his opening session with Xi on Friday night. The two men will appear briefly before reporters likely to ask about the subject.

The summit continues with a dinner on Friday night and a working session on Saturday morning.

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