Microsoft's top lawyer tells Uncle Sam to back off on surveillance

Microsoft's Brad Smith says the US government ought to end bulk collection of phone data, reform FISA court, and stop hacking data centers.

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Microsoft legal chief Brad Smith Getty Images

Microsoft's top lawyer verbally gobsmacked the United States government on Wednesday, proposing a laundry list of surveillance reforms he says ought to get instituted immediately.

"It's now apparent that the government intercepted data in transit across the Internet and hacked links between company data centers," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, wrote in a blog post today. "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."

Specifically, Smith urged the following:

  • Stop trying to force tech companies to turn over data in other countries, thus circumventing existing treaties.
  • End the bulk collection of data of telephone records.
  • Reform the FISA court to make its proceedings more open.
  • Commit not to hack data centers or cables.
  • Do more to increase transparency.

Earlier in the year, President Obama issued a call for transparency as part of a general reform of NSA practices. Tech firms will now be able to disclose the total amount of FISA court orders they receive annually and the number of users affected by those requests, as long as they do so in bands of 250 or 1,000. But Smith's cri de coeur represents the growing frustration in the technology industry with the government's slow-footed response in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA's broad reach and intelligence-gathering practices.

"The US has both a responsibility and an opportunity to show new leadership on these issues," Smith wrote.

His decision to go public with his five-point complaint coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first leaked revelations about the extensive surveillance practices used by the National Security Agency to intercept phone and Internet records.

It's not the first time that Smith has gotten in Uncle Sam's face over surveillance. Earlier this year, he said in a blog that "government snooping potentially now constitutes an 'advanced persistent threat.'"

 

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