Earlier this morning, Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel Brad Smith made the case against pervasive government surveillance, arguing that reform is needed of this nation’s security apparatus.
At a talk this morning, the general counsel couched his larger remarks in the historical context of general warrants, a key source of anger among the colonies that eventually boiled over and led to armed revolt and the formation of the United States, in his estimation.
Smith called on Congress to “close the door on unfettered bulk collection of data” and argued for reform of the “role and nature and proceedings” of the FISA court and for the geographic limiting of warrants issued by the U.S.
Regarding bulk surveillance, citing an NSA document, Smith intimated that Microsoft was the listed ‘Company F,’ that in 2002 declined to comply with the NSA’s request for “email content” in large quantities.
Smith continued, indicating that Microsoft, in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, “had a hard time reconciling [the many] public reports of government access to large amounts of data, with the relatively small amounts” that the company, and likely others like it, had in fact provided.
The answer, Smith stated, came in a report detailing that the NSA was tapping the data cables of U.S.-based companies abroad. Microsoft had to assume that if Yahoo and Google were targeted — those were the two firms cited — it was likely also a target.
Smith stated that the House of Representatives, which recently passed a controversially weakened NSA-reform bill called the USA FREEDOM Act, made progress on ending bulk data collection, but that “we should all hope that the Senate can get us the rest of the way.”
Regarding the FISA courts, Smith called for more transparency, and a more adversarial process. He did note that an advocate for the public has been proposed, but not yet made into law.
Finally, Smith brought up Microsoft’s recent effort to end the U.S. government’s use of warrants issued in the U.S. to demand data stored abroad. The case, involving a foreign user and data stored in Ireland, led to Microsoft pushing back against the government’s request. Microsoft lost its first case and is appealing.
Smith’s comments are noteworthy because they put Microsoft decidedly on one side of the current debate concerning privacy, and the actions of the government. As far as companies go, Microsoft is wealthy, politically active, and not enthused with how the government is comporting itself. When you or I become discontent with the government, our disgruntlement doesn’t rest on a foundation as large as $344 billion in market cap.
On rolls the Snowden Effect.