Microsoft's top lawyer: 'Future is bleak' if gov't bulk data collection continues

Microsoft's top lawyer: 'Future is bleak' if gov't bulk data collection continues

Summary: Microsoft's executive VP has blasted the NSA's "unfettered bulk collection of data" and continues to push for reform following the NSA surveillance scandal.

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Microsoft's executive vice president and general counsel Brad Smith has argued that surveillance reform is necessary in order to avoid a "bleak future" where US law enforcement is not entrenched in the pursuit of justice.

Speaking Tuesday at athe Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, Smith said the US’s secret surveillance court is not held unaccountable to the public, and as a result, is not "inclined to promote justice," as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) is a secretive body that reviews applications and appeals concerning data gathered in the name of US national security. The court decides whether to grant requests including government wiretapping, data analysis and collection if they relate to national security, but has been criticized due to its "one sided" nature — as the court's 11 judges only hear the government's side in hearings.

Not only are FISA rulings arguably one-sided and biased, but the secretive court's decisions are not released to the public. Smith said this effectively creates law "that the American public is not permitted to read."

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FISA was thrown into the spotlight following the leak of confidential documents by formed US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed the government's massive bulk collection of data through telecommunications and the Internet.

Not only did the NSA scandal show just how much data was being collected on the general public without national security relevance, but also highlighted how the US legal justice system and the amount of power the government possesses for surveillance may be due for reform to protect privacy.

The Microsoft executive believes the US government's actions have broken down boundaries that should be set to protect individual privacy, and with the uptake in mobile devices and connection through the internet, unless boundaries are repaired and respected, the issue is only going to get worse.

Smith called on Congress to stop what he calls the "unfettered collection of bulk data" by the NSA and to reform the "role and nature and proceedings" of FISA in order to restore trust in the US legal system and restore the general public's rights to privacy.

"I want law enforcement to do its job in an effective way pursuant to the rule of law," he said. "If we can't get to that world, then law enforcement is going to have a bleak future anyway."

The Microsoft executive did note that the Obama administration proposed a measure of reform to FISA earlier this year which would appoint a panel of privacy advocates to offer input on the court's rulings, but the proposal has not yet been made law.

Smith has upheld a public campaign for reform over this year. There is also a context to Smith's advocation of privacy, as Microsoft is currently resisting a warrant issued late last year by US authorities to force the tech giant to hand over email records of a European customer stored in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft's reluctance to comply did not help the company win the case, and the firm is now appealing the judge's decision. However, Smith's comments have placed Microsoft firmly on one side of the surveillance row and may assure customers that even if the company fails, it will at least try to stop governmental overreach.

Topics: Microsoft, Government US, Privacy

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9 comments
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  • EU should put fines on US data collection

    The EU should put massive fines on companies that provide US government with collection of EU citizens data without permission from EU government or trough EU court order.
    Up to 10% of worldwide revenue.

    That would stop this data gathering very quickly I bet.
    IE11
    • How would it?

      US companies *must* comply, or else real people go to *jail*.

      US law must, itself, change. In order for it to do so, the American citizenry must stop putting security above liberty. Too many posters say nonsense like, "I don't have anything to hide, so I don't care if they snoop on me!" The precedents are very dangerous, and will harm not only the direct interests of US citizenry but the standing of US companies abroad.
      x I'm tc
      • Loving their chains

        "Too many posters say nonsense like, "I don't have anything to hide, so I don't care if they snoop on me!"

        I agree. It's the argument of a freedom-hater who doesn't recognize that there should be limits to government power in a free society. That is, if the society is truly comprised of people who want to be free.
        sissy sue
    • Errr....

      So exactly how will they fine? Per kilobyte? Get real. The EU also doesn't want to piss off the US and companies headquartered there.
      Gisabun
  • I think he's right...

    ...which is why the law needs to be changed (I do think it's being interpreted correctly by the courts).

    Again I ask: does MS have any executives that aren't VPs?
    John L. Ries
    • VPs?

      I guess you don't know how large companies are structured then. I work at one and there are VPOs up the wazoo. Why ask anyways? It is just the top group that are usually making comments, taking interviews, etc.
      Gisabun
      • I've long been amused by title inflation

        It's a problem in most organizations, but MS seems to have it worse than most.

        The meaning of the title "Vice President" is "President's designated substitute", which means there probably shouldn't be more than a couple. I seem to recall a time in my youth when "Executive Vice President" meant "Vice President in Chief" (meaning there should be more than one). If your organization has a dozen or so "Executive Vice Presidents" that fifty years ago would have been styled "Department Heads" (or "Directors"), then it should be obvious to people that titles no longer have any real connection with the language.

        My wife used to be a Chief Clerical Officer (boss' secretary).
        John L. Ries
        • Clarification

          The last line was a joke.
          John L. Ries
  • One bright spot

    Whomever are handling the storage, server, and infrastructure must be happy. The US government must be adding more equipment often. The US would probably go into a recession without it. :-)
    Gisabun