National Security Agency secrets-leaker Edward Snowden is no hero, according to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“I think he broke the law,” Gates told Rolling Stone in an interview published in its latest issue.
“I certainly wouldn’t characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of ‘OK, I’m really trying to improve things.’
“You won’t find much admiration from me.”
Gates said “there has to be a debate” about government surveillance,“but the specific techniques they use become unavailable if they’re discussed in detail.”
“So the debate needs to be about the general notion of under what circumstances should they be allowed to do things,” he said, adding:
“Should surveillance be usable for petty crimes like jay walking or minor drug possession?
Or is there a higher threshold for certain information? Those aren’t easy questions.”
Gates conceded issues of personal privacy are complicated, but that in some cases, “cameras everywhere” can be a good thing.
“My personal view is having cameras in inner cities is a very good thing,” he said, saying petty crime in London has gone down,and asserting “They catch terrorists because of it.”
“And if something really bad happens, most of the time you can figure out who did it,” he said. “There’s a general view there that it’s not used to invade privacy in some way. Yet in an American city, in order to take advantage of that in the same way, you have to trust what this information is going to be used for.”
He also said it’s no secret there’s no secrets.
“Every phone number you dial, every credit-card charge you make –it’s long since passed that a typical person doesn’t leave footprints,” he said. “But we need explicit rules… society does have an overriding interest in some activities, like, ‘Am I gathering nuclear-weapons plans, and am I going to kill millions of people?’ If we think there’s an increasing chance of that, who do you trust? I actually wish we were having more intense debates about these things.”
Last July, the Guardian reported Microsoft had aided the NSA and FBI in accessing user data, including providing video and audio conversations from Skype, Microsoft’s video chat service.
A Der Spiegel report in December also found that the NSA would use fake Windows error messages to spy on people.
Last year, Microsoft executives reportedly had meetings to discuss how to better encrypt user data and pledged in court they would fight any government requests for data of foreign customers.
Reuters contributed to this report
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By Cathy Burke