Former President Clinton on Tuesday said stories about secret National Security Agency surveillance have hurt the United States's standing in the world.
Clinton added he would have “serious reservations” about spying on world leaders’ communications, and that there should be explicit rules on that kind of surveillance.
"Now, it’s interesting," he continued, "because in some other countries it’s come out that those governments were doing the same thing, or that other governments had given us permission.”
Reports that the NSA spied on as many as 35 world leaders have outraged a number of overseas allies. Surveillance of world leaders was just a portion of reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which the Obama administration argues has damaged national security.
Clinton said he would have likely approved surveillance on a leader he thought was engaged in hostile acts during his presidency. But he added that technology in the 1990s wasn't as advanced as it is today.
“But — I’m not sure — we didn’t have the capability then to do a lot of what’s being done today,” he said.
The 42nd U.S. president said the best thing to do is have a public discussion about the surveillance programs.
“What we need here is more transparency and more privacy and more security,” he said. “We’re getting in a position here where people didn’t know what was going on. And the way the data’s been handled, it’s not clear that it’s maximized our security, and it’s perfectly clear that it’s eroded some people’s sense of privacy. So I think the most important thing we can do now is have a really public discussion about what the rules should be.”
A Pew poll released Tuesday found a plurality of people, 44 percent, believe the government has gone too far in restricting people’s civil liberties in the name of national security. Another 39 percent said it has not gone far enough.
Fifty-five percent of people polled said they thought Snowden’s leaks harmed the public, while 34 percent disagreed.