Microsoft calls on government for surveillance reform, and increased transparency

Microsoft calls on government for surveillance reform, and increased increased transparency

Microsoft is calling on the US government to make a series of radical changes to its web surveillance. Some of the surveillance and monitoring took the form of requests for information enforced by legal orders, but there have also been numerous instances of web traffic simply being intercepted.

Government surveillance of internet users has hardly been out of the news for the last year or so. Since Edward Snowden blew the lid off the activities of the NSA, there has been extreme interest in just what sort of monitoring is taking place and the sort of data that is being stored and analyzed. Companies such as Microsoft have also been inundated with legal requests for information about users, and — despite an apparent desire to be open with users about the number and nature of requests that have been received — are unable to report anything about them.

There was huge public backlash when details about government surveillance came to light, but many feel that the reforms that have been suggested do not go anywhere near far enough. General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, Brad Smith, says there is much more to be done, referring to the “unfinished business” of reform.

Everyone understands the need to protect national security, but it is important that this is balance with civil liberties and privacy. Smith suggests that the US government should only be able to request data using legal orders within the boundaries, suggesting that user trust has been undermined by requests for data about users held in other countries.

He also call for reform of the FISA Court so that the legal processes involved are open to scrutiny, and for an end to bulk data collection. He is looking for assurances from government that there will be no government organized hacks of data centers or interception of web traffic. Finally, there is a desire for greater overall transparency. Company served with FISA orders have been able to report, in broad terms, the number of requests they have received, but Smith feels that “even more detail can be provided without undermining national security”.

This is just the latest in a series of calls for governmental reform, but there is yet to be a response from either the government or any of the agency involved to any of the campaigns.

What do you think the US government needs to do about data collection and surveillance? Is transparency enough?

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