WASHINGTON The steps taken by US President Barack Obama to rein in spies at the National Security Agency (NSA) do not go far enough, a senior figure at Google has told the BBC.
David Drummond, the tech giant’s chief legal officer, said the US needed to change its approach to intelligence gathering to restore trust in the internet.
His comments are among the first by a senior tech figure since a speech by the US president earlier this month.
They come as ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave his first TV interview.
Snowden, who is in exile in Russia, told Germany’s public broadcaster ARD that the NSA practised “industrial espionage”.
He said the agency would spy on big German companies that competed with US firms.
Snowden, 30, also said he believed that US officials wanted to kill him, said BBC.
Google’s Drummond described Obama’s high-profile speech on intelligence, delivered on 17 January at the Department of Justice in Washington, as a “positive step”.
But he said the president’s proposals – which mainly focused on limiting the mass collection of phone call information, or metadata – were not enough.
“Let me be clear about it, in general they fall short of where any of the speech and the proposal and the speech fell short of where we’d like to see this go,” Drummond said.
“But I think it was a first step for the administration. It’s not the final word on where this will go. Hopefully, we intend to be very engaged in that debate.”
Almost eight months of leaks by Snowden have focused attention on the large-scale collection of phone call, SMS and internet data by the NSA and by GCHQ in the UK.
The leaks have worried tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, who are concerned that public trust in their services has been undermined by the US government.
“People really need to trust the internet and to trust internet companies and that really underpins a lot of the innovation,” Drummond said.
“We’ve been concerned about the long-term user trust in the internet and what that means for acceptance for new innovations,” he added.
Firms like Google and Yahoo say they have been outraged by allegations of NSA spying
“If you build something great but people are worried or won’t try it because they’re afraid, then it’s not going to work.”
Separately, the politician responsible for piloting a new European data protection law described Snowden’s leaks as a “wake-up call” to the world that had undermined trust between Europe and the US.
But EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told the BBC that after two years of negotiations with the US over European efforts to update legal safeguards for EU citizens and companies exchanging data with the US, politicians in Washington were now starting to hear her message.
“I have been speaking with the Attorney General, Eric Holder, and we are working to see what regulations in the United States can be changed so there is reciprocity and we can finalise this much-needed regulation on both sides of the Atlantic for exchanging data,” Reding said.
She said Obama would meet European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on 26 March, adding that she expected concrete achievements by then.
“Our American partners always told us that data protection was something dear to the heart of the Europeans but nobody cares in the United States. I think that recently people in the US also care – members of Congress, senators as well.”
Snowden’s interview with German broadcaster ARD was his first on-camera interview since revealing himself last June as the source of the NSA leaks.
ARD said they had carried out a six-hour interview that was filmed in a Moscow hotel suite, airing 40 minutes of the footage.
He suggested the NSA spied on companies of interest to US national interests, as well as its stated core mission of national security.
“If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to US national interests – even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security – then they’ll take that information nevertheless,” Snowden said.
He also discussed reports of threats to his life, describing them as “significant” but saying: “I sleep very well.”
“These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket and then watch me die in the shower,” he said, referring to anonymous quotes on US website BuzzFeed.
Snowden’s defenders say his leaks were in the public interest but many Americans consider him a traitor
“I’m still alive and don’t lose sleep for what I did because it was the right thing to do.”
The US has charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence.