WASHINGTON — The U.S. government "really blew it" on conducting surveillance programs that riled foreign leaders and domestic skeptics, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a television interview.
"They're continuing to blow it in some ways and I hope they become more transparent," Zuckerberg, 29, said in an interview broadcast today on ABC's "This Week." "These things are always in balance, in terms of doing the right things and also being clear and telling people about what you're doing."
The National Security Agency is facing scrutiny in Congress and abroad over revelations that it spied on foreign leaders, broke into fiber-optic cables overseas and gathered emails and phone records of innocent Americans. Most of the revelations were exposed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who remains in Russia under temporary asylum.
Zuckerberg, whose Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media company started its initial public offering in May 2012, has spent much of the last year getting involved in political issues, from education in New Jersey to infrastructure development in Africa. In April he announced the formation an advocacy group called FWD.us to lobby for changes to U.S. immigration policy, higher academic standards and investments in scientific research.
"The future of our economy is a knowledge economy, and that means getting the most talented people into this country is the most important thing we can do to make sure the companies of tomorrow are founded here," Zuckerberg, whose estimated worth of $22.6 billion ranks him 32nd on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index of the world's wealthiest individuals, said in the ABC interview.
There are "a lot of misconceptions" about the legality of 11 million undocumented persons in the U.S., Zuckerberg said, citing the case of a student he taught in an after-school program who said he wouldn't be able to attend college because he was undocumented.
"When you meet these children and they're really talented and they grew up in America and don't really know any other country besides that but they don't have the opportunities that we all enjoy, it's really heartbreaking," he said. "It seems like it's one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time."
Fwd.us supports helping undocumented workers become citizens and is calling for an increase in H-1B visas, a program favored by the technology industry that lets skilled guest workers come to the U.S. Zuckerberg visited Capitol Hill in September and discussed immigration with lawmakers.
The Senate in June passed a bill that, as part of revising immigration policy, includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The measure has stalled in the House, where many Republicans oppose the citizenship provision.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has said he wants to approach changes to immigration policy "in a common sense, step-by-step way." He has rejected the Senate approach of using one bill to address multiple issues.
Asked for his advice on what President Barack Obama's administration should do to resolve snags in the new government- run health-insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, Zuckerberg cited his company's own technological challenges.
"Sometimes stuff doesn't work when you want it to," he said. "We've certainly had plenty of mistakes and things that haven't worked the way that we want to. The right thing here is to keep on focusing on building the service that you think is right in the long term."