When running a large multinational tech corporation, there are a few things that are essential to the core of your operations. Among these, perhaps the most integral is the issue of trust. For Microsoft, as its revenue stream relies ever more on the growth of its cloud services to the public, and particularly to the enterprise market worldwide, cultivating an aura both of respectability and dependability is vital to the continuing health of their efforts in this direction.
This is contrasted with national level government however, which has enemies that seek to exploit its weaknesses and so develops means to acquire information that may not necessarily fall within the legal abilities afforded to public companies in order to defend themselves. Amid a culture of fear, propagated by terror groups abroad and brought home by the media, governments harvest their citizens' private data, ostensibly to protect them but in reality not always having such pure ambitions.
Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google and the like thrive on the goodwill of their customers, it is only through appearing to be anything other than inflexible and corporate that they manage to continue to increase their business, both on a consumer and enterprise level. As such, the revelations that have come over the past few years, regarding unprecedented state surveillance, but moreover of the complicity of certain companies in the harvesting of this data from their users, are anathema to our tech giants. As such, they have begun to fight back.
Microsoft is one of the first to fire a shot in the opposite direction, and should it find its mark, things could prove to become a little safer for users. Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs for Redmond, is the man who is taking the shot, it is of little surprise that he recognizes the gravity and size of the task in front of him.
The issue he is fighting for is simple: based on a server in Ireland, Microsoft have stored a number of emails regarding a larger narcotics investigation. Earlier in the year, a US court reached the decision that Microsoft had to hand the data over to aid in the investigation, Redmond refused and voluntarily entered contempt of court. Brad Smith is appealing against the findings of the court, arguing that sovereign incursions into other nations' territory, whether for data or otherwise, is an unacceptable intrusion into the lives of users and against international law.
This is the first time that a US company has fought against a domestic warrant for data held overseas, in this it is highly significant, especially as it follows the Snowden leaks, which laid bare the inner dealings of government agencies as they attempted to collect data indiscriminately. Should he fail in his task, the precedent set by the case will prove to be highly detrimental to any future such efforts, but should he succeed, a milestone will have been placed on the road leading to greater clarity in government dealing, and a little less opacity for the rest of the world to deal with.
As mentioned, Microsoft of course have a large degree of self interest in the outcome of this case, given that they harbor, large amounts of sensitive information taken from clients the world over, yet they are the first to challenge government in the courts rather than simply rolling over or complaining. With the issue of privacy continuing to dominate public debate, as technology changes and we give ever more of our lives away to strangers on the web, it is good to see someone taking a stand, hopefully he will inspire many more to come.
Are you pleased to see someone taking a stand for privacy? Let us know in the comments below.