Ex-Microsoft privacy advisor: I don't trust Microsoft, thanks to PRISM

Ex-Microsoft privacy advisor: I don't trust Microsoft, thanks to PRISM

Summary: Caspar Bowden says the NSA scandal has left him distrustful of the Redmond giant.

Credit: Microsoft

Caspar Bowden says he does not trust the tech giant, and finds open-source, free software more to his taste.

The self-named "privacy advocate" spoke on Monday at a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, dubbed the Congress on Privacy and Surveillance. Speakers discussed privacy and surveillance in the light of the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal. Issues of citizen privacy and how much control and reach governments should have in order to monitor the general public to detect terrorist and criminal threats have been brought to the forefront -- following the leak of confidential documents by Edward Snowden to the media -- and the conference discussed many of the issues currently being debated.

Bowden, who worked on privacy issues across 40 countries between 2002 and 2011, was first to speak. As reported by The Guardian, Bowden said he no longer trusts the software giant, and the extend of Internet monitoring conducted by the NSA in collusion with officials in the U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand is a threat to democracy.

Bowden commented:

"The public now has to think about the fact that anybody in public life, or person in a position of influence in government, business or bureaucracy, now is thinking about what the NSA knows about them.

So how can we trust that the decisions that they make are objective and that they aren't changing the decisions that they make to protect their career? That strikes at any system of representative government."

Bowden claims he was unaware of PRISM and the NSA's other surveillance projects throughout his work, but predicted that these programs would exist. Bowden mentioned his concerns to European authorities last year, but says they did nothing more than "shrug" -- until Edward Snowden came to light.

Bowden said:

"I didn't know about Prism when I was at Microsoft and I don't trust Microsoft now. I'm completely free software now."

Bowden believes that such activities began in the 1970s, when U.S. laws gave authorities more freedom to spy on citizens, find and store data -- as well as granting protection retrospectively for wiretapping. In July, the PC maker was accused of close collaboration with the NSA and helping the agency to "circumvent its encryption" to enable chats to be intercepted in Outlook.com.

Microsoft has denied the allegations, stating:

"We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages. Full stop. Like all providers of communications services, we are sometimes obligated to comply with lawful demands from governments to turn over content for specific accounts, pursuant to a search warrant or court order.

This is true in the United States and other countries where we store data. When we receive such a demand, we review it and, if obligated to we comply. We do not provide any government with the technical capability to access user content directly or by itself. "

Last week, Microsoft disclosed data on requests made of the firm in the first half of 2013 by governmental bodies seeking user data. In the first half of 2013, Microsoft received 37,196 requests from governments worldwide, affecting 66,539 user accounts. In total, 7,014 of these requests came from the U.S. government, affecting 18,809 accounts.

However, NSA requests are not included in these numbers -- as Microsoft is legally prevented from disclosing the numbers. However, the tech giant, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have filed a motion in the FISC (U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) to be allowed to reveal this data.

Correction: Caspar Bowden was not a formal privacy advisor to Microsoft.

Topics: Microsoft, Privacy, Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • hillarious

    and you trusted them before.
    like waking up now is an excuse
    • hillarious

      US Citizen: I don't trust my government , thanks to NSA/PRISM
  • He didn't really say...

    ...why he was now distrustful of MS (was it something MS did?). I don't trust MS either, but not because I think it's trying to spy on me.
    John L. Ries
  • Ex-Microsoft privacy advisor: I don't trust Microsoft, thanks to PRISM

    A bitter ex employee doesn't like his former employer. Happens all the time, nothing to see here. Its easy to tell this guy was let go from Microsoft and probably with good reason. Open source isn't going to do him any favors. If the NSA wants your information they are going to get it.
    • Mr. Davidson

      It's like having one's eggs over easy or over hard. Microsoft rolled over easy.

      And, as for open source:

      o open source software is more difficult to backdoor than closed source software
      o the GNU/Linux desktop is safer than Windows

      And, while it's true that the three-letter Agency that you refer to can get into any OS that it desires, one can make it easy for them or one can make it hard for them. Again, just like eggs.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • If you really think Linux users aren't being watched on by the NSA

        I invite you to join the real world.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • Michael Alan Goff: "being watched on by the NSA"

          I neither stated not implied that Linux users weren't "being watched on by the NSA".
          There are lots of touch points for "watching on" from one's router to one's ISP to Google/Microsoft/Yahoo/etc., etc. The touch points even include undersea cables. All of these touch points are pretty much independent of the OS and software one uses on their PC.

          However, the fact remains that it is more difficult to backdoor open source software than proprietary software. This includes operating systems, application software and encryption software. Open-source software is transparent, proprietary software is not.

          Here's a real world example for the Linux kernel (and don't miss the quote at the end by Theodore Ts'o):

          "Torvalds shoots down call to yank 'backdoored' Intel RdRand in Linux crypto"

          Would you rather that Linux Torvalds and Theodore Ts'o had chosen to place their complete trust in Intel's random number generator locked inside one of their chips?

          And, Microsoft Windows ...

          "How NSA access was built into Windows
          "Careless mistake reveals subversion of Windows by NSA.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • You're still putting your faith in somebody

            Torvalds decides what's in the kernel. He could technically decide to put on a backdoor and 90% of the people would t even know it. Some of those that would see it wouldn't know what it looks like. And some of those people would just blindly follow Torvalds. In the end, though, the notion that every line of code is looked at by everybody is a funny one.

            You better hope Torvalds has morals, or Linux could get just as dangerous as Open Source.
            Michael Alan Goff
  • "unaware"

    If he's being truthful about not being aware of PRISM and BSA surveillance then he wasn't much of a "privacy/security specialist! All of that information was known 7 years ago, so this man sounds more like a disgruntled, incompetent ex-employee than any sort of security "expert".
  • I never trust anyone who is an "Ex" employee

    commenting on past employers, while pushing their own agenda.

    Makes me suspicious...
    • How would you know...

      ...if he's pushing his own agenda, or speaking in the public interest?
      John L. Ries
  • Either way you look at it the NSA

    and revelations about their spying are causing big problems for Microsoft. If for no other reason that Microsoft is a US based company, Europeans and others are and have been looking toward open source to get away from US software driven products.