Former President Bill Clinton had "serious reservations" about eavesdropping on phone conversations or reading emails of other world leaders during his time in the Oval Office, he told Fusion TV anchor Jorge Ramos
"Well, it depended on who they were. If we thought they were engaged in hostile acts against the United States . . . then [American agencies] might do it. But — I'm not sure — we didn't have the capability then to do a lot of what's being done today."
Several media outlets have published leaked information about the seemingly limitless spying powers wielded by the National Security Agency under the Obama administration.
The agency has collected nearly all U.S. call records and captured millions of email contact lists.
During one 30-day period, the NSA gathered information on 124.8 billion phone calls, including about 3 billion calls made from the United States, according to documents
initially released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The NSA also spied on at least 35 world leaders, including allies in Mexico, Brazil, and Germany.
Clinton said the spying scandal had hurt U.S. relations around the globe.
"I do think that the stories about the data collection has had a damaging effect," he said.
"And not just in Latin America, but in Europe and Asia. Now, it's interesting 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."
Speaking with Ramos at Clinton's home in Chappaqua, N.Y., he called for a more open public debate on how to balance privacy and security concerns.
"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."
Clinton also called for more clarity between nations in how they proceed with intelligence gathering.
"I think there ought to be very explicit rules on listening in on conversations of world leaders," he said.
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