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

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.