Microsoft's Brad Smith: 'The path to hell starts at the backdoor'

Microsoft's chief legal officer reiterated his company's support for Apple when he spoke Tuesday at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor

Microsoft's chief legal officer Brad Smith has cleared up any doubts about his company's support of Apple in its ongoing battle with the FBI.

During his keynote address at the RSA information security conference in San Francisco Tuesday, Smith stressed the importance of encryption and its vital role in keeping people and their information secure.

"We need to keep in mind that when it comes to security, there is no technology as important as encryption," Smith said. "And despite the best of intentions one thing is clear -- the path to hell starts at the backdoor."

Microsoft and other technology giants have thrown support behind Apple as the company fights against a federal court order to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino attack.

The case has garnered worldwide attention and will likely have huge implications for privacy and security issues going forward.

Microsoft publicly announced its support for Apple last week. Smith even testified on Capitol Hill in front of the House Judiciary Committee and announced Microsoft's intention to file an amicus brief for Apple in the encryption case.

On Tuesday Smith doubled down on that support while also lamenting the complicated position technology providers face when asked to help with criminal investigations.

In many cases, the technology companies end up complying with law enforcement. Smith said Microsoft received 14 lawful orders seeking content about terrorist suspects in the days and weeks after the Paris terror attacks.

Microsoft -- having deemed the requests legitimate -- turned over information for each request in less than 30 minutes, Smith said.

"We do play our role as an industry, but we also need to stand up for customers."

"We believe emphatically that when a government wants to investigate a legitimate business, it should go to the business and not the cloud service provider instead," Smith said. "Cloud computing should not change that balance. We stand with Apple in this important case."

In order to shift the burden away from technology companies, Smith believes the U.S. government should bring together a commission of experts to advise Congress on matters of encryption.

Microsoft support aside, Apple's encrytption fight is far from over. As Smith addressed the RSA crowd in San Francisco, Apple's general counsel Bruce Sewell prepared to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee, alongside New York district attorney Cyrus Vance, and Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity policy at Worcester Polytechnic.

FBI director James Comey will also testify in a separate witness panel.


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