Prescott Winter, the former CIO and CTO of the USA's National Security Agency (NSA), has said that he is extremely concerned with society's balance between surveillance for security purposes and protecting the interests of citizens.

His comments follow the release of confidential documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor at the NSA, which detailed a US surveillance scheme called Prism. Snowden has since fled the country and has been granted asylum in Russia.

Winter was speaking at Splunk's annual user conference in Las Vegas where he said that countries need to work hard to restore this balance.

“As we are seeing in the United States now in the wake of all the Snowden revelations, the balance between security, which quite frankly requires monitoring and surveillance, sometimes very intrusive monitoring and surveillance, and privacy, is a fundamental balance point in a society,” said Winter.

“This is a big deal and despite 28 years at the NSA I am extremely concerned that this balance be carefully found and maintained. If you go too far one way or the other you are going to wind up worse off.”

Winter, who now works for security consultants The Chertoff Group, also said that this balance will depend on which country you reside in and which country your business operates in, where he cited the stringent privacy restrictions in Europe.

“How do we begin to work with nation states to design policies, regulations and processes that are consistent with the national norms for balancing security and privacy? If you go and look at the cyber strategies for Germany, France, the UK, the USA, they all read really differently,” he said.

“The stated balance of privacy, concern for the citizen, for protecting citizen assets, is very different in some countries than it is in others. The emphasis on protecting the government, the military, the intelligence committees in different places is also stated very differently. 

He added: “I suspect that over time that collaborating countries are going to have to think about getting to grips with this consistently across boundaries. This is a huge complex area and is something companies need to be aware of when functioning in an international environment.”