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Microsoft calls for US to respect privacy

Cliff Saran

Microsoft has taken its strongest stance to date against the US government’s far-reaching snooping laws.

A year after security consultant Edward Snowden’s revelations in the Guardian and Washington Post, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith has written a blog attacking the US government’s attitude to privacy, which he says is in breach of the US Fourth Amendment.

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Smith called on the US government to end the bulk collection of data and increase transparency.

This latest blog post follows on from Microsoft announcing in May that it had successfully thwarted a gagging order by the NSA, when the spy agency wanted access to an enterprise customer’s details.

Smith said in the blog that Microsoft was being challenged in Europe because of people’s concerns over data privacy, which could affect the company’s ability to provide cloud services.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, the European parliament has argued that trust in US cloud computing and cloud providers has been damaged by US surveillance practices. The MEPs recommended that Europe should develop its own clouds and IT solutions to ensure a high standard of personal data protection.

"With the advent of mobile devices and cloud services, technology has never been more powerful or more personal," said Smith. 

"But, as I encountered in virtually every meeting during a recent trip to Europe, as well as discussions with others from around the world, people have real questions and concerns about how their data is protected.

"These concerns have real implications for cloud adoption. After all, people won’t use technology they don’t trust. We need to strike a better balance between privacy and national security to restore trust and uphold our fundamental liberties."

Following news in May that the US had charged five Chinese spies with hacking into US companies, Smith wanted a commitment from the US government not to hack datacentres or data cables. 

"Yet more than seven months after the Washington Post first reported that the National Security Agency hacked systems outside the U.S. to access data held by Yahoo! The Executive Branch remains silent about its views of this practice," said Smith.

"Shouldn’t a government that prosecutes foreigners who hack into US companies stop its own employees hacking into such businesses."

The blog also covers the recent legal challenge Microsoft lost in New York, when US Magistrate Judge James Francis ordered Microsoft to give the District Court access to the contents of one of its customer’s emails stored on a server located in Dublin. Microsoft argued that a US prosecutor cannot obtain a US warrant to search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States. 

"The US government should stop trying to force tech companies to circumvent treaties by turning over data in other countries," said Smith.


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