Edward Snowden, the contractor at the center of the NSA controversy, should be credited for starting a debate, Eric Schmidt told CNBC on Friday.
Former NSA analyst Edward Snowden should be credited for starting a debate about privacy versus security, Google's Eric Schmidt, told CNBC on Friday.
In a wide-ranging "Squawk Box" interview from Davos, Switzerland, the Google executive chairman also insisted that his company knew nothing about the National Security Agency's surveillance activities. He said the agency's actions have cost technology firms "hundreds of millions of dollars in profit" due to opportunities that went to international competitors.
He said U.S. spying had become something of a talking point for European technology companies, giving them an opening to lure business from their American counterparts.
Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia in the face of U.S. criminal charges for his disclosures about NSA spying, has been alternately hailed as a hero and vilified as a traitor.
"When I look at what's happened here, a debate has been started," Schmidt said. "You have to give him credit for that."
(Read more: Obama ends NSA's mass storage of telephone metadata)
Google's top executive also reiterated his position that his company, along with other tech giants, were outraged by the disclosures, and took preventative measures to safeguard user privacy.
"It was a bad policy," Schmidt said. "If you're going to collect that data, ... as a general matter the government should only collect data it really needs."
more: NSA uses old tech to snoop into computers offline)
—By CNBC's Javier E. David.
N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers Text Size Published: Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014 | 7:33 AM ETBy: David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.
While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.
The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.
The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.
The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of ''active defense'' against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.