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Former Microsoft privacy chief no longer trusts company

Caspar Bowden says he was unaware of the PRISM data-sharing program when he worked at the software company.

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Md.
Update: 7:40 PM PT "I don't trust Microsoft now."

Hardly the first or the last time you'll ever hear that sentiment, given the fact that Microsoft's software is used by hundreds of millions of people around the globe and not all of those folks are necessarily fans of the company. Goes with the territory. But this time, the phrase occasioned more than a passing reference, as it was made by the company's former privacy chief covering policies for countries outside the U.S. .

In comments made at a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, Caspar Bowden, who worked at Microsoft between 2002 and 2011, said he had changed his mind about Microsoft following revelations in the Guardian and elsewhere about the extent of the PRISM data-sharing program.

Bowden, whose Twitter feed identifies him as "ex-Chief Privacy Adviser MSFT (hey, I tried)," told the conference he was not aware of the program's existence during his Microsoft tenure. He also criticized the effect that he said programs such as PRISM would have on democratic institutions:

"The public now has to think about the fact that anybody in public life, or person in a position of influence in government, business or bureaucracy, now is thinking about what the NSA knows about them. So how can we trust that the decisions that they make are objective and that they aren't changing the decisions that they make to protect their career? That strikes at any system of representative government."

Bowden, whose words were quoted by the Guardian, said that "we're living through a transformation in surveillance power that's never been seen before on Earth. And we don't know what type of government or leader will come to power next and exploit it. It could be the next president. It could be this one."

Apropos, Bowden said that he stopped carrying a mobile phone a couple of years ago and that he only uses open-source software if he can check the underlying code.

A Microsoft spokeswoman issued the following statement via email:

"We believe greater transparency on the part of governments - including the US government - would help the community understand the facts and better debate these important issues. That's why we've taken a number of steps to try and secure permission, including filing legal action with the US government."

Update Story was updated to include Microsoft comment. Also, Microsoft said that Bowden was "among the chief privacy advisers to the company, covering a number of countries outside the U.S."