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Microsoft to U.S. government: back down now

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Microsoft took aim at the United States government through its general counsel, Brad Smith, in a blog post today. Marking the approximate one year anniversary of the real explosion of media and technology coverage concerning the extent of U.S. government surveillance of phone and Internet records, the post calls for a list of reforms to current surveillance practices and asks that they be implemented immediately.

Smith led his call to action with this damning indictment: “[T]he reality is clear. The U.S. Government needs to address important unfinished business to reduce the technology trust deficit it has created.” He followed up with his specific recommendations, commenting: “These disclosures rightly have prompted a vigorous debate over the extent and scope of government surveillance, leading to some positive changes. But much more needs to be done.”

Smith counsels the United States government to make the following policy changes in order to work towards winning back the trust of its own people, the technology industry, and the rest of the world:

  • Recognize that U.S. search warrants are enforceable only within our own borders, and end the practice of trying to force tech companies and others to turn over data in other countries, which circumvents existing treaties and shows a pattern of disrespect to other nations.
  • End the bulk collection of data of telephone records and strengthen the USA Freedom Act to prohibit more clearly any orders related to bulk collection of Internet data in the future.
  • Reform the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) to increase the transparency of its proceedings and rulings, and introduce the adversarial process.
  • Commit not to hack data centers or cables, including issuance of an official Executive Branch position against hacking as a practice within government agencies.

Smith clarified in his post that while reforms will continue to be international, the U.S. government can and should take a leadership role in reform efforts. This is in line with Microsoft's previous statement through Smith concerning the need for an international convention surrounding government access to data. This emphasis on the role of the U.S. is hardly surprising, especially in light of the overall dismay and frustration the technology industry appears to be feeling for the government's lack of meaningful reactions to NSA, surveillance, intelligence-gathering, and data security issues.

Microsoft is not alone in its assessment of U.S. government surveillance as a threat. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, and various other prominent voices in technology and public policy have voiced similar concerns in recent months.

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