Microsoft To Government Spies: Back Off

Jun 5, 2014

The Obama administration must restore trust in U.S. technology companies and uphold America’s fundamental liberties, Microsoft’s chief counsel wrote in a strongly-worded blog post.

Brad Smith, the tech giant’s chief counsel, says the U.S. government surveillance has created a crisis of distrust in American technology.

"The U.S. government wouldn’t stand for other governments seeking to serve search warrants within American borders to seize the content of U.S. citizens’ emails without going through U.S. legal process," he wrote, "Why should it expect other governments to react any differently?"

Brad Smith, Microsoft chief counsel, wrote a strongly-worded blog post to the U.S. government.
Brad Smith, Microsoft chief counsel, wrote a strongly-worded blog post to the U.S. government.
Credit Courtesy Microsoft

It has been a year since The Guardian and the Washington Post newspapers started reporting information from former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s documents revealed a vast U.S. government program of cyber-spying.

According to Smith, the Obama Administration should:

Stop forcing U.S. technology companies to give up information about foreign clients that is stored abroad.

Stop hacking U.S. technology companies' data centers, including the ones overseas.

Stop the bulk collection of Internet and phone data.

Allow more information to be released to the public about the extent of government surveillance.

Reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court.

Smith also argues that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects U.S. citizens against unreasonable government searches.

The reaction to the Snowden revelations was that foreign clients began dumping U.S. tech companies – because they too expected to be free from unreasonable U.S. searches. Businesses around the world are investing in cloud data storage, and growth in cloud storage is expected to be particularly strong outside of North America in the next five years.

"That's why this issue is so important, because it's really about whether the U.S. will be a leader," said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

"European companies would love to take this over,” he said. “Asian companies would love to take this over, and they will have the opportunity if the U.S. government doesn't create a response that allows them to compete on a level playing field."

Castro is the author of a report last year on the effect of the NSA revelations on U.S. cloud computing firms. He calculated at least $22 billion in lost business because of client concerns about U.S. government spying. 

Following the Snowden revelations, the Cloud Security Alliance, an industry group, surveyed computing clients. It found that more than half the customers outside the U.S. were less likely to use U.S.-based cloud providers because of the NSA revelations. Ten percent more cancelled a project to use U.S.-based cloud providers because of Snowden.