Microsoft Wants International Convention on Government Access to Data


Weeks after calling the US government an “advanced persistent threat” and saying it will do everything in its power to contest data requests made by government, Microsoft general counsel and executive vice president for Legal and Corporate Affairs, Brad Smith is out with a new blog post calling for an international convention on government access to data.

President Obama made a significant speech last week on proposed reforms to the NSA spying program that is collecting information from everyone at all times. However, missing from that speech were any proposed reforms to how the US government has infiltrated the systems of many of the US’ biggest IT companies. At the time of the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden, one of the questions asked was how US technology companies were going to be able to compete globally now that it is known publicly that systems are compromised. It appears from this blog post that Microsoft is not amused with the lack of solutions coming from the White House on this issue.

To wit: “This week, the World Economic Forum holds its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland where these same issues of data privacy and reform of government surveillance will be on the agenda. We hope that these discussions will spur a focus on the international steps that governments can take together. While there is no substitute for American leadership and action on these issues, the time has come for a broader international discussion. We need an international legal framework – an international convention – to create surveillance and data-access rules across borders.”

“Historically, the tension between public safety and individual liberty often arises first in moments of national crisis. During the Napoleonic Wars, John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. In World War II, the government interred Japanese-Americans. In the heat of a particular moment, the pendulum swings toward a greater focus on security. When the moment passes, people ask how they want the balance more permanently to be struck,” Smith writes.

Citing the Fourth Amendment, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, and respect for basic human rights Smith is pressing for codified language on these issues. He will be part of a panel on Wednesday in Davos around the same topics.