Former US president Bill Clinton, currently on a visit to Rio de Janeiro, said he opposes economic espionage on Washington's allies such as Brazil.

"We should never collect economic information under the pretext of security," Clinton said in an interview published Monday by O Globo newspaper.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was furious to learn via leaked US intelligence documents that the US National Security Agency (NSA) snooped on her communications, that of state-run oil giant Petrobras as well as on emails and telephone calls of millions of Brazilians.

Rousseff responded by calling off a scheduled state visit to the United States in October and publicly reprimanded Washington at the UN General Assembly.

But Clinton added he believed that technological advances inevitably would impinge on privacy.

"The problem is that anybody who is good with computers can break any code. Edward Snowden did that," he noted, referring to the row over the leaks by the fugitive former NSA analyst.

Clinton said he accepted the topic was controversial and there had been "a lack of transparency" in explaining US government policy on eavesdropping.

He concluded by saying a debate was needed to show citizens that use of "Big Data" could help ward off terrorist threats, adding he knew for a fact that lives had been saved through communication interception.

Clinton was in Rio to host the opening of his eponymous global initiative's first meeting in Latin America.

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