Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was “literally outraged” when he first learned that American and British spies were tapping into the firm’s data.
In an interview with The Guardian published on Tuesday, Schmidt said he and other Google executives have “complained at great length” to the U.S. government about the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts and have since started to encrypt internal communications.
Surveillance by the NSA and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has raised alarms among tech company executives and privacy advocates, since the efforts were disclosed last year. Documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the spy agencies had gained access to fiber-optic cables connecting the world’s Internet users.
The Google executive refused to say whether Snowden, who faces espionage charges, should be pardoned for his leaks.
“I don’t think it’s so obvious one way or the other,” he said.
President Obama on Friday announced a series of changes to the NSA and other surveillance efforts, including a measure to allow businesses like Google to disclose more details about the information they have to hand over to government officials. Businesses are currently limited in what they can disclose about the government's requests.
Schmidt told The Guardian that he did not look at NSA requests for data because, "if I did then I would be subject to a whole lot of rules.”
Many technology firms and civil liberties advocates called Obama’s speech a step in the right direction but also said the administration should make more substantive changes to regain the public’s trust.
Some lawmakers and defenders of the intelligence community’s efforts have worried more significant reforms might cripple government intelligence and prevent agents from stopping future terror attacks.
In his interview, Schmidt compared U.S. officials’ surveillance of the Internet with their Chinese counterparts.
Concerns about the NSA are a “luxury problem” compared to the Chinese government, he said.