Charlie Hebdo attack prompts Microsoft to hand data over to FBI

Microsoft handed over data linked to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack to the FBI in double-quick time, noting that extra snooping should only happen under certain circumstances.

Microsoft reportedly handed over data linked to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in under an hour.

Bloomberg reported that the tech company was able to deliver the data within 45 minutes of the FBI's request, which Microsoft thought "was proper".

Brad Smith, Microsoft's executive vice president and general counsel, admitted that handing data over to the FBI can work, and that extra snooping should only happen if strictly regulated.

"Just two weeks ago, the French government sought the content of emails from two customer accounts held by Microsoft when it was in the midst of pursuing the Charlie Hebdo suspects," Smith said in the report.

Recent Newspoll figures showed that since the Charlie Hebdo attack, two thirds of people believe it is more important for the US government to investigate possible terror threats than to avoid intruding on personal privacy.

Smith added that laws need to be "modernised" to allow rule of law on the internet to work across national borders.

Since 2013, Microsoft and other tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter, have encouraged governments to enact "sensible limitations on their ability to access user data, and to work together to develop a robust, principled, and transparent international framework that resolves conflicts".

Smith previously wrote in a blog post urging governments to reform their electronic privacy laws to restore customer confidence in information technology.

Microsoft's advocacy was initially triggered by the extent of the introduction of the National Security Agency's (NSA) program in 2012.

The FBI's request was not the first time that Microsoft was ordered to hand over customer data. Microsoft previously resisted demands from the US government to cough up email hosted in its Irish datacentre, as it could have had dramatic implications for US cloud providers. The government had sought emails from Microsoft in relation to a drug trafficking investigation.

Smith said at the time, "Under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, users have a right to keep their email communications private. We need our government to uphold constitutional privacy protections and adhere to the privacy rules established by law."

Microsoft also previously challenged an FBI National Security Letter, which requested basic subscriber information and information about one of its enterprise customers, and won. Smith had noted that it was unlawful and a violation against free expression.