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Hillary Rodham Clinton Talks NSA, Presidential Aspirations With Kara Swisher

"The NSA has to act lawfully, and we as a country have to decide what the rules are and ... hold them accountable."

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Americans feel “betrayed” by the revelations of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities and it needs to be more transparent, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday at a gathering of female Silicon Valley executives, in a conversation that touched on issues from gender discrimination to her presidential aspirations.

Asked if former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was a traitor, Clinton responded that “I can never condone what he did,” saying that his disclosures had damaged national security.

At the same time, the government also has responsibilities it needs to live up to, she said.

“The NSA has to act lawfully, and we as a country have to decide what the rules are and make it absolutely clear we will hold them accountable,” she said in an interview with Re/code co-executive editor Kara Swisher at the sold-out Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women after a speech that focused mostly on gender discrimination issues and the economic importance of women.

Watch the full video below:

A few weeks ago, President Obama acknowledged in an interview with Swisher that his relationship with Silicon Valley had become strained over revelations in 2013 about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.

Although the White House has suggested phone companies take over the collection of phone metadata from the NSA, little has been done in Washington over the past year to curb the agency’s efforts. Congress has been unable to reach consensus on legislation to overhaul the NSA’s programs, although lawmakers are trying again this year.

Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, has not announced yet whether she will run for the White House. Friends and supporters of the Democrat, however, have already been fundraising and making plans for a likely bid.

She dodged the question of whether she is running, saying that she still had a list of issues she was ticking through before she was ready to make a decision. “All in good time,” she said.

Crowd at Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women at Santa Clara Convention Center on February 24, 2015.
Crowd at Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women at Santa Clara Convention Center on February 24, 2015.

In both her speech and in conversation with Swisher, Clinton spoke at length about the challenges facing working women in the U.S. and how more needs to be done to encourage women to get into science and technology fields.

Gender inequality issues were a major topic of discussion at the networking conference, which included sessions on “Bridging the Cross-Gender Communication Gap to Improve Your Leadership and Advance Your Position” and “Breaking Through: How to Overcome Fears, Inertia, Gender Bias and Other Obstacles.”

In Silicon Valley, one recent gender pay-gap study found that college-educated women with the same degree as men tend to make 60 percent less, Clinton said.

“We can count on one hand the number of women who have actually been able to come here and turn their dreams into billion-dollar businesses,” she said during her speech. While nearly 60 percent of college graduates are women, less than 20 percent earned computer science degrees, she said, less than half of what that percentage was in the 1980s, she told the audience.

Even as Clinton spoke, about 40 miles away in a San Francisco court room a high-profile gender discrimination case was being played out before a fascinated tech community. Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers began defending itself Tuesday in a $16 million gender discrimination case brought by former VC Ellen Pao.

She has accused the firm of discrimination after getting poor reviews — and ultimately being fired — after ending a relationship with a married colleague. The firm has denied those charges and said Pao simply wasn’t a very good VC.

Asked about tech issues, Clinton said that there needs to be balance on the issue of encryption. Companies like Apple and Google are responding to customers’ demands when they build strong encryption into their operating systems. But law enforcement also needs to be able to protect Americans, she said.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Meanwhile, Clinton said she supports FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal for net neutrality rules, which are scheduled to be approved on Thursday. “I think that for the FCC to do what they want to do to try to create net neutrality as the norm, they have a hook to hang it on,” she said, adding that she thought Wheeler and supporters were proposing to re-regulate broadband under Title II of the Communications Act because “it’s the only hook they’ve got.”

The former first lady reportedly earns about $300,000 for appearances like the one today in Santa Clara. She has been criticized in the past for giving so many pricey speeches, but as the New York Times noted this morning, it’s expensive to run a presidential campaign and until she declares, the operating costs are coming out of her pocket.

On a lighter note, Clinton told Swisher she uses an iPhone and a BlackBerry but isn’t really in a “wearable frame of mind.”

“You can tell I am not doing Fitbit,” Clinton joked.

This article originally appeared on

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