Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "global compact" on surveillance and the use of collected data, saying the U.S. isn't the only country that does it and American technology companies are unfairly targeted for the government's actions.
"The US government doesn't use information for commercial purposes," while other countries do, Clinton said.
"We need to make it clear to other countries that our technology companies are not part of our government, and that we have more legal processes than any other country that I'm aware of" covering government requests for information, Clinton said during her appearance at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit, a technology conference in San Francisco.
The threat of electronic spying was so great in some countries that when traveling as a US official she couldn't carry any electronics, she said.
"Every time I went to countries like China or Russia, I mean, we couldn't take our computers, we couldn't take our personal devices, we couldn't take anything off the plane, because they're so good, they would penetrate them in a minute," Clinton said. She and her staff removed the batteries and left the devices on their plane.
Though she wants to see an international agreement on the collection and use of data, Clinton acknowledged that would take long and careful effort.
Clinton, who is pondering a run for president in 2016 and is widely considered the likely Democratic nominee, said the U.S. wasn't perfect on the surveillance front, especially when it was "scrambling around" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"There's no doubt we may have gone too far in a number of areas, and that those have to be rethought and we have to rebalance," Clinton said. "The [National Security Agency] didn't, so far as we know, cross legal lines, but they came right up and sat on them."
But she said some tradeoffs have always been necessary. "Our privacy and our security are in a necessary, inevitable tension," Clinton said.
Clinton also voiced support for immigration reform and H-1B visas for skilled workers, both hot-button issues for a tech audience, but warned that IT shouldn't use immigration to avoid hiring locally.
"Given the Great Recession and the fact that so many people lost jobs across the economy, including in the tech field, there has to be an extra effort made to try to fill jobs with people who are already here," she said. "They can be either native-born or immigrant, but already here, so that then if that's not possible, you have a good-faith argument that you tried."