Microsoft is tired of getting pummeled in the press over reports that it hands over emails and Skype conversations to the National Security Agency. Unfortunately, the federal gag order related to the NSA is so strict that companies can’t even talk about the existence of the program. Today, Microsoft
begged issued a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder to release the gag order so that that they can dispel rumors.
“I’m writing to ask you to get involved personally in assessing the Constitutional issues raised by Microsoft and other companies that have repeatedly asked to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information.”
The letter followed a categorical denial that Microsoft provides special access to the NSA. “We do not provide any government with the ability to break the encryption, nor do we provide the government with the encryption keys,” tweeted Microsoft General Counsel, Brad Smith.
Yahoo recently won a court case that will allow it to prove that they fought the NSA, so there’s room for Microsoft to be optimistic.
The full letter has been pasted below:
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I’m writing to ask you to get involved personally in assessing the Constitutional issues raised by Microsoft and other companies that have repeatedly asked to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information. In my opinion, these issues are languishing amidst discussions among multiple parts of the Government, the Constitution itself is suffering, and it will take the personal involvement of you or the President to set things right.
Since the initial leak of NSA documents, Microsoft has engaged constructively with the Department of Justice,the FBI, and other members of the Intelligence Community on the ground rules governing our ability to addressthese issues and the leaked documents publicly. We have appreciated the good faith in which the Government hasdealt with us during this challenging period. But we’re not making adequate progress. When the Department andFBI denied our requests to share more information, we went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)on June 19 to seek relief. Almost a month later, the Government is still considering its response to our motion.
Last week we requested official permission to publicly explain practices that are the subject of newly-leaked documents that refer to Microsoft and have now been misinterpreted in news stories around the world. Thisrequest was rejected. While we understand that various government agencies are trying to reach a decision onthese issues, this has been the response for weeks. In the meantime, the practical result of this indecision iscontinued refusals to allow us to share more information with the public.
This opposition and these delays are serving poorly the public, the Government itself, and most importantly, the Constitutional principles that we all put first and foremost.
As I know you appreciate, the Constitution guarantees the fundamental freedom to engage in free expressionunless silence is required by a narrowly tailored, compelling Government interest. It’s time to face some obvious facts. Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling Government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information, especially when this information is likely to help allay public concerns.
I feel very fortunate that we have both an Attorney General and a President with such long standing knowledge of and appreciation for our Constitution. Put simply, we need you to step in to ensure that common sense and our Constitutional safeguards prevail.Thank you for your consideration.
Bradford L. Smith