Microsoft champions Internet privacy, calls on Congress to act

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It’s been little more than a year since former contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of pages of documents detailing the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance activities, and still the discussion about individual privacy rights continues to increase worldwide.

And now Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel for Microsoft, has chimed in on the issue, revealing Tuesday how the Snowden revelations have impacted his company’s privacy stance, including one instance when Microsoft was thought to be the subject of a published Snowden document.

In June 2013, Microsoft and Google teamed together and sued the federal government, asking that they be allowed to share with the public information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests they receive from the government. They reached a deal in January.

The lawsuit stemmed from realizations that Microsoft was believed to be the “Company F” identified in some of the Snowden documents released in the news media, Smith said at an event organized by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C..

“One of the companies that got our attention when we read the document was ‘Company F,’” he said. “It turns out that if you read this document, it says that in October of 2002, the NSA talked with people from the company’s department of legal and corporate affairs. I can tell you that today in the tech sector, there are several companies that have departments of legal and corporate affairs, but I can also tell you that in October of 2002 there is only one tech company that I know of that had a department with that name – it was Microsoft.”

In an hourlong address, Smith explored the fundamental questions surrounding the meaning of the Fourth Amendment in the age of the Internet and electronic surveillance.

“I think it’s especially important to bring this issue even more to Washington,” Smith said. “Because it is an issue that, ironically, today is getting more attention in some other national capitals than it is here, even though so much of the focus is about the policies of the United States government.”

To look at how the Fourth Amendment will be applied in the 21st century, especially after the Snowden revelations, Smith said Microsoft looks at public safety, ensuring that the Bill of Rights retains its meaning, and how technology can make life more efficient while maintaining privacy.

“We can’t talk about government surveillance without starting by acknowledging that we must continue to protect the public,” Smith said. “Equally, there are other goals as well. We need to ensure that the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights retain the type of meaning in the 21st century that they had in the centuries that preceded us.”

Smith also called on Congress to do more to “close the door” on bulk data collection. The House recently passed the USA Freedom Act, while the Senate is working on an NSA bill of its own.

“We do need Congress, in my opinion, to close the door on unfettered bulk collection of data,” he said. “The House got us close, and we should all hope that the Senate can get us the rest of the way so that the public here and around the world can have the fundamental trust in the technology it uses every day.”

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Brad Smith, Congress, Defense Department, Departments, Edward Snowden, Government IT News, House of Representatives, Microsoft, National Security Agency, Senate, The Guardian