Hillary Clinton: U.S. Government Needs To Rethink Surveillance Policies

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. government needs to reevaluate its policies on surveillance in the wake of the Edward Snowden-NSA spying scandal.

"There is no doubt that we might have gone too far in a number of areas," said Clinton, speaking at storage vendor Nexenta's Open SDX Summit in San Francisco Thursday. "At some point, I think there needs to be a global pact about surveillance and information and what it's used for."

While Clinton said she supports what President Obama and Congress are doing in this area, she believes the government's policies on surveillance and data collection need to be rethought.

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The comments came as Clinton shared the stage with Nexenta CEO Tarkan Maner, who asked her to comment on the impact of the so-called "Snowden Effect," which has caused some foreign governments to shun products from U.S. tech companies due to government spying concerns.

"It is an incredibly complex set of issues. How do you maintain privacy -- another word for liberty -- and also have adequate security?" Clinton said in the interview.

Clinton said while the NSA didn't cross any legal lines, it came right up against them, and that surprised people. In the future, government metadata collection needs to be balanced with citizens' expectations for privacy, she said.

"We need to make it clear to other countries that our tech companies are not part of our government," Clinton said.

In addition to the NSA spying scandal, Clinton also tackled some of Silicon Valley's most pressing issues -- including immigration reform and women in technology.

Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate widely regarded as the party's front-runner, made it clear to an audience of some 300 technology executives that she's well-versed on what's happening in Silicon Valley, particularly in areas like big data and software-defined networking.

These and other emerging technologies are enabling productivity gains for a wide range of industries, from healthcare to manufacturing and domestic energy production, Clinton said.

"There are enormous opportunities ahead in so-called big data, now that we have the processing power and tools to really analyze the mountains of data generated by life in the 21st century," Clinton said.

The U.S. is home to one-third of all the world's data, and the streamlining of supply chains and improved manufacturing processes this enables are "a major competitive advantage," Clinton said.

However, big data technology has been a double-edged sword. The National Security Agency's spying on U.S. citizens and foreign officials, which former NSA contractor Snowden uncovered last year in a series of leaked documents, was enabled in large part by big data.

Switching gears, Maner asked Clinton about the role of women in technology and what the U.S. government can do to address their under-representation in IT.

While the government needs to increase STEM education and provide encouragement for women to acquire skills, the private sector bears the lion's share of responsibility here, according to Clinton.

"We've gone backwards. We had more women graduating with degrees in STEM subjects 30 years ago than we do today. What is happening? There seems to be a kind of cultural bias or discouragement against girls and women," Clinton said.

Clinton also wants U.S. technology companies to repatriate some of the billions of dollars they've parked overseas in order to avoid paying taxes on it.

She would like to get tech companies to invest a portion of their overseas profits in an infrastructure bank, which would help fund repairs to airports and ports, and expansion of broadband access, calling it "a very intriguing idea."

"It doesn't do us any good to have that money parked overseas. I would like to find ways of getting it back," Clinton said.

The U.S. government needs to change its policies on the use of new technology, Clinton said. In the past, the government prohibited its employees from using mobile devices, even desktops, until long after those products were in widespread use in the private sector.

The Healthcare.gov rollout wasn't handled the right way in part because the U.S. government's strict rules on using technology, Clinton said.

Clinton, taking on a question of particular relevance in Silicon Valley, also said she's interested in seeing broad immigration reform, noting that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies have been started by immigrants.

"The role immigrants play in technology is unparalleled. We are hurting ourselves by failing to do comprehensive immigration reform," Clinton said.