Google chairman Eric Schmidt has denied knowing about the surveillance techniques used by the National Security Agency, despite having high enough clearance with the US government to have been informed.
Schmidt said staff at Google had "complained at great length" after finding out about unauthorised access to their servers by the US government via leaks by whistle-blower Edward Snowden in June last year.
Like the rest of the world, Schmidt and other Google executives only found out about the snooping practices after they were first reported by the media during the summer, as the US government didn't tell anybody at Google what was going on, he claimed.
"I have the necessary clearances to have been told, as do other executives in the company, but none of us were briefed," he told The Guardian
"Had we been briefed, we probably couldn't have acted on it, because we'd have known about it. I've declined briefings [from the US government] about this because I don't want to be constrained."
While there are many in the US who've vilified Snowden, Schmidt argued that the issues surrounding the former government IT contractor are complicated, and added that he appreciated why Snowden acted in the way he did.
"Had this information not come to light, we would not have been able to [stop the NSA spying]. I can understand the position he felt," said Schmidt, although he added the issue over whether Snowden should be pardoned or prosecuted isn't simple. "I don't think it's so obvious one way or the other," he said.
Schmidt is still unable to openly discuss requests by the NSA about Google users, lest he face prosecution, but he suggested that the number isn't huge as he could view all of the requests if he wanted to.
"It's illegal to notify the public how many requests we get; we've filed suit to release the aggregate number. You can imagine why," he said.
"I do not by choice, because if I did then I would be subject to a whole lot of rules. There's a team of attorneys who see them," Schmidt added.