Microsoft on the Issues http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues News and perspectives on legal, public policy and citizenship topics Fri, 29 Apr 2016 19:02:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5 Microsoft’s support for the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/29/microsofts-support-2016-republican-democratic-national-conventions/ Fri, 29 Apr 2016 19:00:03 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38767 Technology is a powerful tool that empowers voters and dramatically improves the democratic process. It gives voters access to information to make informed decisions and helps ensure election results are reported accurately, efficiently and securely. In recent weeks, we have been asked about our plans for the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  Since we began working with convention committees in 2000, the company has based our actions on three Read more »

The post Microsoft’s support for the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Technology is a powerful tool that empowers voters and dramatically improves the democratic process. It gives voters access to information to make informed decisions and helps ensure election results are reported accurately, efficiently and securely.

In recent weeks, we have been asked about our plans for the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  Since we began working with convention committees in 2000, the company has based our actions on three principles. First, we act in a bipartisan manner and provide similar levels of support to both conventions.  Second, we make a special effort, as do many companies in our industry, to provide the conventions with technology tools to help enable this part of the American democratic process to operate efficiently and accurately. And third, we do not endorse either political party or its nominee. We’ve been committed to all three of these principles through four presidential elections, and this year will be no exception.

A year ago, we started identifying the places where Microsoft technology could help this important part of the democratic process operate smoothly.  Based on our conversations with the Republican National Convention’s host committee and committee on arrangements, we decided last fall to provide a variety of Microsoft technology products and services instead of making a cash donation.  For the Democratic National Convention, we’re providing access to similar Microsoft technology as well as some sponsorship of host committee activities. The Microsoft technology for both conventions includes Office 365, Azure, Surface and other products.

In recent weeks we’ve engaged in conversation with groups that have asked us about our plans for the conventions this July. We’ve been happy to answer their questions and listen to their feedback. Even as we’ve done so, we’ve remained steadfast and comfortable with the decisions that we previously made. We continue to believe that the principles that have guided us for over 15 years remain sound today. In particular, we believe that technology from Microsoft and other companies provides an important tool that helps the democratic process work better.

So as we’ve explained to others, we’re not changing our planned activities for the conventions in 2016. We appreciate that this year’s conventions may have some more dramatic moments than in some prior years. This is all the more reason, in our view, to ensure that they benefit from technology tools that are used for a range of important activities, from helping to record accurate vote counts to sharing information quickly and accurately with delegates and the public.

The post Microsoft’s support for the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Towards a taxonomy of civic technology http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/27/towards-taxonomy-civic-technology/ Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:00:05 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38677 Matt Stempeck is Director of Civic Technology on Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team. The thoughts in this post are derived from a collaboration with Micah Sifry and Erin Simpson, which will be presented today at The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference. Micah Sifry co-founded the long-running Personal Democracy Forum conference and Civic Hall, which has attracted over 1,000 individual and 90 organizational members in just over one year of Read more »

The post Towards a taxonomy of civic technology appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Matt Stempeck is Director of Civic Technology on Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team. The thoughts in this post are derived from a collaboration with Micah Sifry and Erin Simpson, which will be presented today at The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference. Micah Sifry co-founded the long-running Personal Democracy Forum conference and Civic Hall, which has attracted over 1,000 individual and 90 organizational members in just over one year of operation. Erin Simpson is Program Director of Civic Hall Labs, and previously a Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement Fellow.

The field of civic technology is poised to take off. Investors, philanthropists, and the media see a gathering force, a convergence of trends. The technology industry’s increasingly interested in societal impact. Governments are developing the capacity to leverage advanced technologies. Communities are being expected to accomplish more with fewer resources.

We believe the field is at an inflection point. We have organized a taxonomy of civic tech to attract more participation to the field, move resources in productive directions, and crucially, understand impact.

Our taxonomy consists of four parts:

  1. A clear definition of civic tech.
  2. A categorical index of civic tech’s technical functions.
  3. A study of the social processes in which we engage.
  4. Cross-cutting analytical questions that get to the heart of what it all means.
  1. What is civic tech?

This is the quick hit sentence you can share with someone at a party that still leaves room for them in the conversation:

image 0

This definition is intentionally broad. We see civic tech as an umbrella term that captures subcategories like government tech, but expands beyond the government, as well. Depending on where you live, not every government works for the public good. Civil society includes, but is not limited to, the state.

Civic tech spans everything from public policy to political campaigns to nonprofits to urban planning to statecraft. In addition to closely adjacent fields, civic tech benefits from closely related work that set the stage and provided the context for what we do today: the open source movement, government transparency advocacy, and even work to improve access to the open Internet played critical roles in the development of what we now call civic tech.

image 1

These previously distinct fields have met at the intersection of tech, each field forced to reconsider profound shifts in participation and empowerment and the new challenges they present. This convergence becomes immediately clear when you browse Civic Graph, a network visualization the Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement team built to make legible the many interconnections.

II. Technical functions

A broad convergence of fields naturally invites a rich variety of actors attempting different objectives. We’re better for it. For practitioners and researchers in the field, we need names for the subgroupings within which we actually work. So we’ve inventoried hundreds of actual examples of civic tech and organized them into categories by the functions they achieve. We took a bottom-up approach, beginning with what exists rather than our own opinions. The result is a list of functional categories:

image 2

The categories and their examples can be found here. We applied the categories only after the examples were on the table, with the full knowledge that it’s still an incomplete list. Entire categories of technologies are yet to come, while other categories may go. Some technologies ignite founders’ visions and funders’ passions without finding a good product-market fit.

One thing you may notice is that we avoid domain-specific examples wherever possible. Solutions for improving health, education, cities, elections, should all be included in civic tech when solving for shared challenges and opportunities, but to categorize the tech, we refined down to the core technical function. It’s also important to note that our collection includes failed efforts, as we consider these data points as vital to understanding the field as the success stories (and perhaps more so, given the disparity in awareness between successes and failures).

III. Social processes

If we were to stop here, we would have a categorical compendium, but not a taxonomy. We need to consider the social processes in which we work together to employ the technologies, and a way to evaluate to what that amounts.

Civic tech is so much more than tools and platforms and the groups who make them. The civic tech ecosystem necessarily includes the social processes we use to organize the talent and relationships that are key to driving impact. We inventoried these expressed behaviors, from relatively new formats of hackathons and globally distributed open source projects to time-honored traditions like gathering in shared spaces built around shared values.

image 3

image 4This list is also not exhaustive, but begins to demonstrate just how much of the work of civic tech is interpersonal.

IV. To what end?

Civic tech’s practitioners have achieved significant victories and seen some of their ambitions plateau. To facilitate research into the impacts of this work, we must confront cross-cutting analytical questions that get to the true meaning of the tech – what does it do out in the world?

image 5

One way to evaluate civic tech projects was suggested to us by Tom Steinberg, who founded MySociety, a proto-civic-tech organization, and committed resources to asking hard questions about its impact. Tom suggested we evaluate civic tech along the axes of who uses it (users) and who pays for it (customers). Users can be customers, although it’s often the case in civic tech that the people and groups funding the work are not the intended beneficiaries. Governments, organizations, and individuals most often use civic tech, whereas governments, philanthropies and industry most often fund civic tech. Evaluating civic tech through the lens of users, customers and other stakeholder groups involved helps us unpack tensions as well as successes. Microsoft’s Elizabeth Grossman suggests the additional axis of “Who executes?” which includes “who builds?” and “who maintains?” When we consider complicated tasks like algorithm design for public benefits allocation, or behavioral science for policy outcomes, knowing the designers of the black box matters. Taken as a set, these questions can quickly cut to the purpose, stated or otherwise, of many civic tech works.

image 6

Another cross-cutting question to consider is the degree of change a civic tech effort seeks to affect. We apply a framework introduced by Tony Roberts that categorized projects by the depth of change they seek: conformist, reformist, and transformist. A civic tech project could conform to existing power dynamics, and simply digitize the existing world. A civic tech project can also reform, providing efficiencies and conveniences and generally improving the status quo. Or, a civic tech project can transform what’s possible, and actually shift power relationships from the few to the many.

image 7

Lastly, we consider the depth of the technology. A civic feature embeds civic engagement into mainstream tech, like when a search engine informs its users about presidential election candidates. I collect prominent examples of civic features.

Civic products are stand-alone tech products built around one or several specific civic use cases. These are the most obvious examples of civic tech, and the most common examples in our collection.

Civic externalities are produced by technologies that weren’t necessarily intended to affect civic life, yet most certainly do. Take, for example, how Twitter has made conversations more transparent and accessible to broader publics. The reduced friction between conversations in this open communications medium has produced positive and negative externalities ranging from increased awareness of social justice issues African-American communities face to targeted group harassment of individual females.

Today, in Barcelona, we’ll share this work with peers from around the globe and invite their critiques and contributions. There will be Post-It notes. We’d love your thoughts, reactions, and contributions (which you can add here). We’ll continue refining and building this model to grow the field of civic tech and deepen our understanding of its impact.

 

The post Towards a taxonomy of civic technology appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
‘Fishackathon’ hooks Seattle tech professionals http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/25/fishhack/ Tue, 26 Apr 2016 00:42:06 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38638 Seattle technology professionals gathered over the weekend at Impact Hub Seattle to participate in a “Fishackathon,” one of 41 Fishackathons that took place in cities around the world timed with Earth Day. These events are coordinated by the U.S. Department of State, with the goal of using data science and technology to reduce global overfishing, while protecting our environment and food supply. Microsoft was the organizing sponsor for the two-day Read more »

The post ‘Fishackathon’ hooks Seattle tech professionals appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Fishackathon, civic engagement

“What I saw during this year’s Fishackathon in Seattle was very encouraging. Challenged with sweeping problem statements, engineers and fishery scientists came together to create amazing concepts,” said Ravi Jain, chief technology officer for Vulcan Inc.

Seattle technology professionals gathered over the weekend at Impact Hub Seattle to participate in a “Fishackathon,” one of 41 Fishackathons that took place in cities around the world timed with Earth Day. These events are coordinated by the U.S. Department of State, with the goal of using data science and technology to reduce global overfishing, while protecting our environment and food supply.

Microsoft was the organizing sponsor for the two-day event, with Vulcan Technology providing key financial support and industry expertise. “Ocean health is the ultimate common problem, because we can’t have a healthy local ecosystem in the Puget Sound if the oceans that surround us are not healthy,” said Candace Faber, the city of Seattle’s Civic Technology Advocate. “As Seattle Mayor Ed Murray often reminds us, Seattle has long been defined by our innovation and creativity. On Earth Day, what better way to apply that than by transforming our technical know-how into solutions to a major problem that affects us all?”

Fishackathon, civic engagement

Graham Thompson, Seattle Civic Tech Manager, Microsoft, speaks at the Fishackathon.

Seattle technologists worked with selected experts to define and scope nine specific challenges, which were released on the first day. Then teams spread out to start working on various solutions. The global winner will be announced on World Oceans Day, June 8. Interesting proposals included:

  • Image-recognition technology capable of identifying mass-caught fish as they are brought into boats, in order to capture quantity, species, maturity and health. The amount of data needed to create the model is significant, but the impact would be huge, in terms of better understanding those species at potential risk.
  • A tracking system to monitor improperly disposed of nets, a major, yet common, problem. Such nets are pollutants that can harm large numbers of fish at a time. If a fishing operation is continuously buying nets but never disposing of them, they’re likely tossing them, intentionally or not, into the sea. Providing an incentive to turn in nets to a registered recycle facility allows regulatory bodies to track which boats are being responsible and which are polluting oceans with old gear.

The winning team, King Triton, developed a solution that uses fishing vessel data to catch those breaking international and other laws governing the industry. The team’s proposal will be submitted to the U.S. Department of State’s global competition. The winner receives a $10,000 cash prize, and the solution will be developed by a third-party development team funded by the State Department.

“We are at a pivotal time in history where technology is having a major impact on the effectiveness of philanthropic efforts, particularly those focused on ocean health,” said Ravi Jain, chief technology officer for Vulcan Inc. “What I saw during this year’s Fishackathon in Seattle was very encouraging. Challenged with sweeping problem statements, engineers and fishery scientists came together to create amazing concepts.”

What also made this event special was the overwhelming support of industry experts acting as mentors. They came from the city of Seattle, Marine Affairs Research & Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Socrata, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Vulcan’s Oceans, Illegal Fishing, and Tech Philanthropy programs. Some even joined teams and had a big impact on the quality of the finished products. It’s our hope that future collaborations will follow the “Fishackathon” model, leading to innovative solutions for vital local and global concerns.

Fishackathon, civic engagement

Teams spread out to work at the Fishackathon.

The post ‘Fishackathon’ hooks Seattle tech professionals appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Why this biotech patent case is significant for the software industry http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/25/biotech-patent-case-significant-software-industry/ Mon, 25 Apr 2016 16:24:02 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38581 It’s with good reason that the patent case of Sequenom Inc v. Ariosa Diagnostics gained incredible attention in the biomedical community. When the biotech company Sequenom developed a new way to identify potential fetal health and developmental risks through a maternal blood test instead of through an invasive procedure, it was considered a breakthrough in neonatal medicine. According to the courts, however, this innovation cannot be protected by patent rights. Read more »

The post Why this biotech patent case is significant for the software industry appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
It’s with good reason that the patent case of Sequenom Inc v. Ariosa Diagnostics gained incredible attention in the biomedical community. When the biotech company Sequenom developed a new way to identify potential fetal health and developmental risks through a maternal blood test instead of through an invasive procedure, it was considered a breakthrough in neonatal medicine. According to the courts, however, this innovation cannot be protected by patent rights.

While the Sequenom case arises in the context of a patent for a bio­medical inno­vation, it also raises issues of tremendous signifi­cance for the software industry. The Federal Circuit’s decision to invalidate Sequenom’s patent reflects a growing trend that lower courts have been invalidating biotechnology and software patents at an unprecedented rate since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Alice v. CLS Bank and Mayo v. Prometheus. Some winnowing of unmeritorious patents following Mayo and Alice is both appropriate and expected. But the impact has been unpredictable, and there is a risk of misguided rulings that deny patent protection for true software innovation.

Now, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to weigh in and provide much needed clarification as to what is and is not patent eligible. As you can read in Microsoft’s amicus brief, we believe that the Supreme Court’s intervention is necessary because the decision in this case sets a precedent that could have far-reaching impact on future of innovation and patent eligibility, not just in biotech but across all industries.

Both the biomedical and technology industries are leading drivers of innovation and economic growth, but the current uncertainty is a disincentive for the research and development and the ingenuity that is the backbone of our nation’s competitive advantage. Innovation requires a “predictable, con­sis­tent and uniform”[1] sys­tem of patent pro­tection to sustain the investment that fuels that growth. Without the Supreme Court’s clarification, the unpredictability under existing law threatens serious damage to some of our country’s most important industries.

[1] Caltech, 59 f. supp. 3d at 986

The post Why this biotech patent case is significant for the software industry appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Microsoft brings Bridge to MassChallenge to Australia http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/19/microsoft-brings-bridge-masschallenge-australia/ Wed, 20 Apr 2016 00:00:13 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38473 Boston-born startup accelerator, MassChallenge, will soon be setting up its first Bridge to MassChallenge program in Australia with Microsoft as its founding partner. The Australian government today announced the news along with Pip Marlow of Microsoft and Kara Shurmantine of MassChallenge. MassChallenge is one of the world’s top accelerators. It was founded as a non-profit organization by John Harthorne and Akhil Nigam in the aftermath of the global financial crisis Read more »

The post Microsoft brings Bridge to MassChallenge to Australia appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Technology & Civic Engagement, accelerator, citizenship

From left, Pip Marlow of Microsoft;
Christopher Pyne, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science; and
Kara Shurmantine, Senior Director for Global Partnerships at MassChallenge.

Boston-born startup accelerator, MassChallenge, will soon be setting up its first Bridge to MassChallenge program in Australia with Microsoft as its founding partner. The Australian government today announced the news along with Pip Marlow of Microsoft and Kara Shurmantine of MassChallenge.

MassChallenge is one of the world’s top accelerators. It was founded as a non-profit organization by John Harthorne and Akhil Nigam in the aftermath of the global financial crisis as a way of focusing on those who were creating the new jobs, and finding creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

As a company built on empowering every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more, it was a natural fit for Microsoft to become MassChallenge’s first corporate partner. Our relationship with the Boston accelerator has grown over the past seven years under the guidance of our Technology and Civic Engagement team in New England and particularly the efforts of Cathy Wissink and Aimee Sprung.

MassChallenge made a pledge with the Clinton Global Initiative to take its program to 10 cities around the world by 2020, and in doing so to directly create 30,000 new jobs and another 150,000 indirect jobs. It is now running full programs in the U.K., Israel, Switzerland, and Mexico, and has run Bridge to MassChallenge programs such as the one planned for Australia, in Colombia, Morocco, France, Spain, Korea and Russia, among others.

The expansion to Australia and Microsoft’s role as the founding partner of Bridge to MassChallenge was announced by Christopher Pyne, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, at Microsoft’s offices in South Australia.

I am proud that this outcome has evolved from a partnership between Microsoft’s New England team and our Australian subsidiary that has been running for more than 18 months. This has seen a rich sharing of ideas, knowledge and relationships to the benefit of the innovation ecosystems in both markets.

What started as a job shadow opportunity for Belinda Dennett from Microsoft in Australia sparked an idea that developed into a full-fledged partnership. This partnership aspired to answer the question: What is the role of government in building a thriving innovation economy? To that end, Microsoft convened an Australian delegation of leading politicians, policymakers, academics and business people who spent a week with their counterparts in Boston, sharing ideas, best practices and potential next steps for the Australian innovation ecosystem. As part of the tour, the group spent an evening at MassChallenge, learning about the role MassChallenge plays in the local, national and international innovation space.

The Australian team also released a report discussing Boston’s approach to innovation and economic renewal. This has proven to be just as compelling for our stakeholders in Boston as it was to our stakeholders in Australia. Not only did it provide an opportunity to share best practices, the report also provided a compelling external perspective of what makes the ecosystem so successful – which may have surprised some of those who are so central to it.

Of course these announcements don’t just happen. There has been a mountain of work behind the scenes to generate support from the federal and state governments and within Microsoft, and to show how Australia is well placed to support a Bridge to MassChallenge program.

“Microsoft has been an invaluable partner for MassChallenge. They share our vision for helping support entrepreneurs and improve ecosystems around the world, and aren’t afraid to do the work with us that it takes to make that vision a reality,” said Kara Shurmantine, Senior Director for Global Partnerships at MassChallenge.

According to Belinda Dennett, “What started out as an idea to shine the light on Boston as an example of a thriving innovation ecosystem has ended up shining a light on what is happening in Australia and putting Microsoft in a great position to be part of – and help drive – some really exciting changes.”

This is the start of something very exciting for MassChallenge and for Microsoft, especially in Australia. It is also evidence of the potential of our Technology and Civic Engagement team to work outside of the U.S. and shows the key role Microsoft can play in being a facilitator and convener of the innovation ecosystem.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

The post Microsoft brings Bridge to MassChallenge to Australia appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Microsoft partners with Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net to create access to justice portal http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/19/microsoft-partners-legal-services-corporation-pro-bono-net-create-access-justice-portal/ Tue, 19 Apr 2016 20:15:08 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38527 Imagine you are single, with two kids, one in diapers. You have steady work, but after paying for commuting, child care, food and rent, there isn’t much left over. You speak Spanish natively, and English well enough to get by. Things are going along pretty well until the heat fails, repeatedly, in your apartment. When the landlord doesn’t fix it despite your complaints, you withhold rent, as you are legally Read more »

The post Microsoft partners with Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net to create access to justice portal appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Imagine you are single, with two kids, one in diapers. You have steady work, but after paying for commuting, child care, food and rent, there isn’t much left over. You speak Spanish natively, and English well enough to get by. Things are going along pretty well until the heat fails, repeatedly, in your apartment. When the landlord doesn’t fix it despite your complaints, you withhold rent, as you are legally entitled to do. Not long after that, you are served with an eviction notice.

Where do you turn?

You are not a lawyer, you don’t know any lawyers, and you certainly can’t afford to pay a lawyer. You’ve heard you can “represent” yourself in court – but how? You may be able to get help from a legal aid organization, but which one? The legal aid “system,” such as it is, is de-centralized and fragmented, making it hard to know even where to begin, much less how to solve your problem.

Millions of people in America face challenges like this every year. For better or worse, we are a highly legalistic society, but not everyone has access to the justice system. That can render people powerless – people who need help with housing, employment, government benefits or protection from an abusive spouse. In an era of increasing concern about income inequality, this is a big problem: the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans – estimates that only about 20 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income people in the United States are adequately addressed.

Technology can help. The same tools that businesses and people are increasingly using to shop, learn and communicate can be deployed to address the access-to-justice gap. The technological building blocks are available – we just need to get to work building solutions to address access to justice.

That is why earlier today Microsoft joined with the LSC and Pro Bono Net in announcing the development of a prototype access to justice “portal.” Microsoft will provide funding of at least $1 million and project management expertise to build out this project.

Drawing on state-of-the-art cloud and Internet technologies, this portal will enable people to navigate the court system and legal aid resources, learn about their legal rights and prepare and file critical court documents in a way that is accessible, comprehensive and easy to navigate. The ultimate goal is to help people every step of the way toward addressing their legal problem.

This first-of-its-kind system will be accessible from any device, standards-compliant and connected to legal aid organizations through open software interfaces. Once the prototype is developed, we will post it in open source form to GitHub, one of the leading sites for open-source software development projects. That way, others can build upon it or build other, comparable systems. Over time, we hope that every state will develop a portal solution to provide a modern, efficient way for everyone to access the court system and legal aid resources. With recent advances in machine learning, we can even imagine that within the not-too-distant future systems such as these could enable people to speak naturally and receive help in a comfortable “chat” format tailored to their specific needs.

LSC developed the vision for this portal over the past few years, working with leaders from across the access to justice community. The National Center for State Courts recently began fleshing out the technical requirements for such a portal. Pro Bono Net, a national non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the access-to-justice gap through technology and collaboration, has agreed to help convene local partners and provide service design expertise to execute the pilot. We couldn’t be happier to start working with all three of these organizations to implement LSC’s vision of access to justice for all.

In addition to his role at Microsoft, Heiner is also the chairman of the board of Pro Bono Net.

The post Microsoft partners with Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net to create access to justice portal appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
5 questions with We Day Seattle participant Aishwarya Manoharan http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/18/5-questions-with-we-day-seattle-participant-aishwarya-manoharan/ Mon, 18 Apr 2016 13:00:06 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38488 Microsoft Philanthropies is a founding sponsor of We Day California and We Day Seattle, stadium-sized celebrations of youth making a difference locally and globally. Sponsoring We Day is one way Microsoft Philanthropies works to empower young people to achieve more for themselves, their communities and the world. Aishwarya Manoharan is a standout We Day Seattle participant who will attend the April 20 event. The Woodinville High School senior is a Read more »

The post 5 questions with We Day Seattle participant Aishwarya Manoharan appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Microsoft Philanthropies is a founding sponsor of We Day California and We Day Seattle, stadium-sized celebrations of youth making a difference locally and globally. Sponsoring We Day is one way Microsoft Philanthropies works to empower young people to achieve more for themselves, their communities and the world.

Aishwarya Manoharan is a standout We Day Seattle participant who will attend the April 20 event. The Woodinville High School senior is a student ambassador at a club for the nonprofit Girls Who Code. Last fall, she participated in an event with Chelsea Clinton, sharing her ideas with world leaders about using technology to address global environmental concerns.

  1. How did you first learn to code?

After signing up for AP Computer Science during my junior year, I was starting to doubt my choice when I discovered that I was one of four girls in a class of 36. But I was surprised to find that Microsoft employees, including a woman, were teaching the class through a program called TEALS. This program brings together volunteers from many tech companies to co-teach the subject with in-class teachers. TEALS helped me discover the real-world applications of what I learned in class every day. With the support of the volunteers and my computer science teacher, I realized how I could use computer science to make an impact on the world.

  1. When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a computer science career?

I realized during my AP computer science class that code is original. It’s like a piece of art because nobody else uses the same lines or logic to write a program. I found coding as a way to express myself because each line of my code represented how I think. Above all, I loved the feeling of triumph every time my code worked. That was enough to lure me in.

  1. Tell us about your experiences with Girls Who Code?

I joined like-minded women through the nonprofit’s Summer Immersion Program, while benefitting from perspectives coming from every corner of the world and using those ideas to supplement my own. This showed me how collaboration is essential in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. I then signed up as a Girls Who Code student ambassador, where I help young girls with computer science projects weekly at my local library. My goal is to help decrease the gender gap in STEM fields by demonstrating that women can be passionate about STEM, too. I’ve seen the girls grow in their passion for technology and computer science. They see themselves as the ones creating the next app to diminish poverty or building the next rover for space exploration because they see a need to solve our world’s issues.

  1. Why do you think students should consider learning to code?

Computer science is incredibly versatile. It can combine with any field – fashion, architecture or game design – to make any task easier. This feature is how technology is helping save the world. And anyone can do it. It’s not like physics or calculus equations that need to be memorized, or having to find a single correct answer. It’s all founded on creativity and logic. Code is original and written in accordance with who you are, and that’s the best part!

  1. How do you plan to have a positive local and global impact in the future?

Next year I hope to major in computer science and explore how computer science can improve sustainability and environmental health. Technology can influence issues on a global scale and I want to play a role in those innovations across the board. Specifically, I aim to focus on how technology can help conservation techniques and reduce our environmental footprint.

We Day Seattle, education, STEM, YouthSpark

Enthusiastic crowds at We Day Seattle in 2015. This year’s event is April 20. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

 

The post 5 questions with We Day Seattle participant Aishwarya Manoharan appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Keeping secrecy the exception, not the rule: An issue for both consumers and businesses http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/14/keeping-secrecy-exception-not-rule-issue-consumers-businesses/ Thu, 14 Apr 2016 16:06:57 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38317 This morning we filed a new lawsuit in federal court against the United States government to stand up for what we believe are our customers’ constitutional and fundamental rights – rights that help protect privacy and promote free expression. This is not a decision we made lightly, and hence we wanted to share information on this step and why we are taking it. An issue of fundamental rights We believe Read more »

The post Keeping secrecy the exception, not the rule: An issue for both consumers and businesses appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
This morning we filed a new lawsuit in federal court against the United States government to stand up for what we believe are our customers’ constitutional and fundamental rights – rights that help protect privacy and promote free expression. This is not a decision we made lightly, and hence we wanted to share information on this step and why we are taking it.

An issue of fundamental rights

We believe that with rare exceptions consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records. Yet it’s becoming routine for the U.S. government to issue orders that require email providers to keep these types of legal demands secret. We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation.

To be clear, we appreciate that there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed. This is the case, for example, when disclosure of the government’s warrant would create a real risk of harm to another individual or when disclosure would allow people to destroy evidence and thwart an investigation. But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.

The urgency for action is clear and growing. Over the past 18 months, the U.S. government has required that we maintain secrecy regarding 2,576 legal demands, effectively silencing Microsoft from speaking to customers about warrants or other legal process seeking their data. Notably and even surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68 percent of the total, contained no fixed end date at all. This means that we effectively are prohibited forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data.

We believe these actions violate two of the fundamental rights that have been part of this country since its founding. These lengthy and even permanent secrecy orders violate the Fourth Amendment, which gives people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property. They also violate the First Amendment, which guarantees our right to talk to customers about how government action is affecting their data. The constitutional right to free speech is subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling governmental interests, a standard that is neither required by the statute being applied nor met by the government in practice here.

An issue with important practical consequences

The issue also has practical implications, and it’s important to consider them.

First, the issue has vital practical ramifications given the evolution of technology. Before the digital age, individuals and businesses stored their most sensitive correspondence and other documents in file cabinets and desk drawers. As computers became prevalent, users moved their materials to local computers and on-premises servers, which continued to remain within a user’s physical possession and control. In both eras, the government had to give notice when it sought a warrant to seize private information and communications, except in the rarest of circumstances.

Cloud computing has spurred a profound change in the storage of private information. Today, individuals increasingly keep their emails and documents on remote servers in data centers – in short, in the cloud. But the transition to the cloud does not alter people’s expectations of privacy and should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must – with few exceptions – give notice when it searches and seizes private information or communications.

The same is true for businesses large and small. In the past, when a business’ email server was housed in its own building, the government by definition had to give notice in order to enter the building or otherwise require the business to produce an employee’s emails. Now businesses actively are migrating their information technology infrastructure to servers hosted by cloud service providers. In this new context, the government’s secrecy orders forbid cloud service providers from letting businesses know that the government has obtained their data. Not surprisingly, business customers regularly convey to us their strong desire to know when the government is obtaining their data. And not surprisingly, they want the opportunity for their own lawyers to review the situation and help decide whether to turn over information or contest the issue in court.

In 2013 we committed publicly to challenging individual secrecy orders for legitimate business customers, given our belief that the government can often obtain the information it needs from the headquarters of a business without notifying a specific individual there who is under investigation. In some cases we’ve convinced the government to redirect its request to our business customers. In other cases we’ve litigated the issue, and, in one recent situation, the government argued that we should be held in contempt for refusing to turn over email until a court ruled on the secrecy issue. Fortunately, we prevailed on the contempt issue in that case. But as we’ve monitored requests over time, we’ve concluded that this issue is recurring and needs to be considered in the context of the broader constitutional rights that are at stake.

It’s also important to consider the issue in the practical context of government investigations. Even if there is a solid basis for secrecy at the beginning of an investigation, circumstances can change. The government may drop the investigation or may take some step that alerts an individual to its existence. Yet even then these lengthy or permanent secrecy orders prevent cloud service providers from discussing with the customer the fact that his or her emails were accessed.

An issue that calls for a principled solution

Whenever we raise concerns such as these, we try to couple our focus on the problem with some suggestions for possible solutions. We definitely appreciate that we do not have all the answers and that others may offer better ideas than we have thought about so far. But we believe it’s important to help think constructively about possible steps forward.

While today’s lawsuit is important, we believe there’s an opportunity for the Department of Justice to adopt a new policy that sets reasonable limitations on the use of these types of secrecy orders. Congress also has a role to play in finding and passing solutions that both protect people’s rights and meet law enforcement’s needs. If the DOJ doesn’t act, then we hope that Congress will amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to implement reasonable rules. In fact, secrecy provisions in ECPA today are out of step with other U.S. laws that contain clearer limitations on secrecy provisions and allow law enforcement flexibility for extensions.

If policymakers update the rules governing secrecy orders, we hope they will be guided by three principles that we think are important for our customers and for law enforcement. First, transparency: People have a right to know as soon as reasonably possible when the government serves a provider with a legal demand to access their records or emails. Providers like Microsoft have a right to inform customers and be transparent with the public. Second, digital neutrality: Customers generally shouldn’t be entitled to less notice just because they have moved their emails to the cloud. And finally, necessity:  Secrecy orders should be adapted to what’s necessary for the investigation, and no more. If there’s a good reason to justify a secrecy order initially and that reason continues, prosecutors should be able to extend the order based on necessity. If not, we should be able to tell our customer what happened.

As I noted at the beginning, we don’t take lightly this type of action – filing a lawsuit against any government. We only do so when we believe that critical principles and important practical consequences are at stake. Today’s lawsuit is the fourth public case we’ve filed against the U.S. government related to our customers’ right to privacy and transparency. The first lawsuit resulted in a good and appropriate settlement allowing us to disclose the number of legal requests we receive. The second resulted in the government withdrawing a National Security Letter after we challenged a non-disclosure order attached to the letter. The third, a challenge to a U.S. search warrant for customer email in Ireland belonging to a non-US citizen, is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Today’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, can be found here.

Ultimately, we view this case as similar to the other three that we have filed. It involves the fundamental right of people and businesses to know when the government is accessing their content and our right to share this information with them.

The post Keeping secrecy the exception, not the rule: An issue for both consumers and businesses appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Why the DMCA is ready for the next chapter of innovation http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/12/why-the-dmca-is-ready-for-the-next-chapter-of-innovation/ Tue, 12 Apr 2016 16:50:23 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38398 Twenty years ago, the notion that most Americans would begin their morning by going online – checking their email, posting a personal update or photo, or completing an online purchase, all before finishing their morning coffee – was almost implausible. Today, more than a quarter of Americans report that they are online “almost constantly” with their always-connected phones and tablets. The Internet, and popular sites like Amazon, Facebook, OneDrive, Pinterest, Read more »

The post Why the DMCA is ready for the next chapter of innovation appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Twenty years ago, the notion that most Americans would begin their morning by going online – checking their email, posting a personal update or photo, or completing an online purchase, all before finishing their morning coffee – was almost implausible. Today, more than a quarter of Americans report that they are online “almost constantly” with their always-connected phones and tablets. The Internet, and popular sites like Amazon, Facebook, OneDrive, Pinterest, Twitter and many others we can’t imagine living without, exist and flourish because Congress saw fit to create a safe harbor framework of Section 512 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The U.S. Copyright Office recently invited public comment on the impact and effectiveness of Section 512 of the DMCA. Microsoft has provided our views, reflecting our multiple roles and experiences as copyright owner, online service provider and as a platform facilitating access to copyrighted works. Informed by these diverse perspectives, Microsoft believes that no legislative changes to the current DMCA framework are needed. In our view, Section 512 has proven flexible and capable of adapting to the scale and pace of online innovation.

Today, we sit on the cusp of another wave of innovation, one that will again revolutionize how we work, how we communicate and how we interact with information and with each other. Smarter devices, digital assistants, cloud computing, and the growing “Internet of Things” digital economy all rely on the DMCA’s “rules of the road,” and as these technologies evolve, the DMCA’s carefully balanced rules will continue to be essential in providing the legal certainty and operational clarity as to the allocation of liabilities and responsibilities appropriate for copyright owners, online service providers and users.

The overwhelming majority of online conduct is beneficial, for individuals and for society, and is legitimate. Yet piracy from some sources continues to be a challenge for rights holders, including Microsoft. The DMCA’s established balance – allocating to rights holders the responsibility of identifying infringing uses of their works and to service providers the responsibility to act expeditiously to remove or block access to infringing material – has fostered both creativity and innovation in the digital age. As a responsible service provider, Microsoft is committed to cooperating with rights holders in combatting online infringement. The DMCA plays an essential role in facilitating such cooperation.

In enacting the DMCA, Congress recognized that voluntary and collaborative measures undertaken in partnership between rights holders and service providers held the key to ensuring future flexibility of the DMCA framework. Through our own efforts as both copyright owner and online service provider, Microsoft has seen how these kinds of collaborations can be successful and agile in combatting pirates who are constantly changing their tactics, while ensuring that access to legitimate material is not impacted.

We welcome the role of the Copyright Office in continuing to work with all stakeholders to promote voluntary collaboration, and to explore effective, data-driven enforcement measures targeting bad actors that flout the DMCA, intent on infringing copyright for financial gain.

The post Why the DMCA is ready for the next chapter of innovation appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Microsoft supports EU-US Privacy Shield http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2016/04/11/microsoft-commits-resolve-eu-u-s-privacy-shield-disputes-data-protection-authorities/ Mon, 11 Apr 2016 10:02:29 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/?p=38128 Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to privacy as a fundamental right reflects our view that our business is ultimately built on trust. The newly established EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which will govern data transmission between Europe and the United States, will strengthen privacy protections for European Union citizens and set clear rules for thousands of businesses in Europe and the United States that depend on the free flow of information across the Atlantic. Read more »

The post Microsoft supports EU-US Privacy Shield appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>
Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to privacy as a fundamental right reflects our view that our business is ultimately built on trust.

The newly established EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which will govern data transmission between Europe and the United States, will strengthen privacy protections for European Union citizens and set clear rules for thousands of businesses in Europe and the United States that depend on the free flow of information across the Atlantic.

Today, Microsoft Vice President for EU Government Affairs John Frank emphasized our support for the Privacy Shield and highlights our commitments under the new process for data transfers between the EU and the U.S., including our commitment to cooperate with EU national Data Protection Authorities and comply with their advice as regards to any disputes under the Privacy Shield.

“By providing a clear framework that ensures key protections of EU citizens continue when data is transferred to the United States, the Privacy Shield framework is an important step in enhancing trust in the global digital economy, and we hope that it will be approved as negotiated,” Frank writes.

To learn more, read Frank’s post on the Microsoft EU Policy Blog.

The post Microsoft supports EU-US Privacy Shield appeared first on Microsoft on the Issues.

]]>