Technology companies, due to the inherently sensitive nature of the data they hold, are caught up between responsibilities with customers, and the need to comply with governments’ security policies; conflicts, of course, ensue. Few have dared to take it to head-to-head matches with the ruling body in the courtroom like Microsoft did recently however, and the company’s president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, has talked about it with Wall Street Journal.
The most recently lawsuit Microsoft has filed to challenge secret search orders, is also the fourth one against the US government, with the first one happening in 2013, then related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since then, two of the lawsuits have resulted in Microsoft’s victory and the government backing down with their requests, and two still waiting for a decision.
These suits have all involved situations where we’ve felt that the company’s business and the interests of our customers were at stake around security and privacy.
According to Smith, these lawsuits have had input and unanimous support from the CEO, senior leadership team, as well as the company’s board of directors; company employees, meanwhile, are kept informed via blogs. Pushing the rights violation concerns through the 93 attorney’s offices throughout US has been one of the more challenging aspects of the process, and sometimes, like in the latest lawsuit, there’s no choice but to take action.
These are issues we had tried to raise with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., over the last few years. They work in an environment that has so many competing priorities that many days we would find that our concerns just didn’t make it high enough on their list for effective action to be taken.
On the customers’ side, Microsoft has taken effort to keep stakeholders informed, with tweets and polls, the latter of which happens once or twice per year ever since the first suit. Despite its fierce stance regarding privacy, the company still keeps a careful approach to communicating, and aiming for a middle-ground resolution, according to Smith. Moreover, it’s not like Microsoft doesn’t recognize when privacy concerns have to give way to public safety responsibilities: Smith openly admits to the company complying with Paris and Brussel police’s 14 search orders in “under 30 minutes” in the aftermath of the horrifying terrorist attacks at the two cities.