Reforming government surveillance

Today, we are joining AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo in calling for reforms of government surveillance.

Since Microsoft was founded, we’ve believed technology is a powerful tool that can help people. In that belief we remain steadfast.

But we also recognize another important point. People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.

Last week we announced that we’re taking new steps to reduce the risk of government snooping. Today we’re joining with others across our industry to call on governments to adhere to specific principles with respect to surveillance.

We of course want to help ensure that we all live in a secure world. We recognize that governments play a vital role in safeguarding safety for all of us. But there needs to be a balance between safety and the personal freedoms of people, especially law-abiding citizens and institutions.

The mechanism for striking the balance is clear. Government access to personal information must be governed by law. Surveillance should address specific, suspicious targets under defined legal process rather than bulk collection of Internet communications.

Another aspect is critical. In the United States, government access to personal data should respect the individual freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. These Constitutional protections travel with American citizens as they interact with the U.S. Government, including outside our borders.

The ultimate guarantee of these freedoms rests with the courts – as well as the court of public opinion. Hence surveillance must be subject to judicial review in accord with clear legal rules. And there needs to be transparency sufficient for the public to have confidence in the balance being struck.

Although many recent revelations have focused on the U.S. Government, in reality this is a global issue. It requires coordinated steps to ensure the flow of information across borders and avoid conflicts between governments.

By definition, the world needs a global discussion. Especially given this context, we hope our industry’s suggestions can be of help. If you’d like to read more, you can find additional information at ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.

About the Author

General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

Brad Smith is Microsoft's General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs. He leads the company's Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA), which has approximately 1,100 employees located in 55 countries. Mr. Smith is responsible for the company's legal work, its intellectual property portfolio and patent licensing business as well as its government affairs and philanthropic work. He also serves as Microsoft's corporate secretary and its chief compliance officer. Mr. Smith currently co-chairs the board of directors of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and is the chair-elect of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. In Washington state, Mr. Smith has served as chair of the Washington Roundtable, a leading Washington state-based business organization, and he has advanced several statewide education initiatives.