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Government should do more to protect data: Brad Smith

Microsoft’s General Counsel has repeatedly called for Congress to further protect data belonging to U.S. citizens

Microsoft’s General Counsel has repeatedly called for Congress to further protect data belonging to U.S. citizens.

Brad Smith, executive vice president and GC at Microsoft, recently told an audience at the Brookings Institution that there needs to be more transparency and Congress needs to do more to protect private data from U.S. government surveillance.

“We need Congress to close the door on unfettered bulk collection of data,” Smith said.

There are only limited times when private communications can be provided to the government.

“The only basis on which It made sense for [Microsoft] to turn over the private communications of our customers to any government in the world including our own was pursuant to the rule of law and pursuant to legal process…if the US government felt that it had a need for the private communications of our customers, it should turn to the legal process, and if it felt that legal process didn’t go far enough, it shouldn’t ask us for help,” Smith said. “It should turn to Congress because that is the way that the fundamental rights of citizens should be protected and regulated in a democratic society.”



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Looking ahead, there will be far more devices connected to the Internet with the increasing presence of the Internet of Things. There are now 1 billion PCs and 2 billion smartphones connected to the Internet.

“By the end of this decade, there will be 50 billion devices in the Internet of things connected to data centers around the world,” Smith said. “We will enter a world where every thermostat, smoke detector, fire extinguisher, parking meter, traffic light, garbage can, and you name it, is a connected device.”

In such a situation, there are questions on: how to ensure transparency, how the public should have control over personal information, how there should be accountability via regulation and judicial review, and how there should be global norms and collaboration.

In 2002, Microsoft declined to turn over customer e-mail to the National Security Agency, according to PC World. And now the NSA should not reach into networks without the permission, Smith said.

“We cannot live in the Wild West when we're talking about information that is this important to people," he added.

The government’s data collection practices were revealed after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked many classified documents.

"I want law enforcement to do its job in an effective way pursuant to the rule of law," Smith added. "If we can't get to that world, then law enforcement is going to have a bleak future anyway."

Microsoft is now fighting an order that it comply with a warrant for e-mail-account data stored in Dublin, Ireland, CNET reported.

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein ( is a veteran freelance writer and and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. He writes frequently for ALM Media's

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