More than a year after news of the extent of the National Security Agency’s cyber-spying operations broke, US tech companies are not only still scrambling to repair their reputations, but are also fighting over the US government’s demands for more customer data.
That’s according to Microsoft’s chief legal officer Brad Smith, who said in a interview with Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide Friday that his company is resisting U.S. Department of Justice demands for emails from a Microsoft user’s account in Europe. Last year, Smith urged the White House to lift the secrecy around data collection requests issued to tech companies. In a speech last month, Mr. Smith, who in a Dec. 4 post on Msoft’s official blog labeled the American government as an “advanced persistent threat”, complained against the secret U.S. surveillance court, saying we are facing a “bleak” future if more isn’t done to protect individuals’ private data.
U.S. tech companies are trying to repair their already battered image after NSA general counsel Rajesh De stated in late March that big tech companies like Yahoo (YHOO) and Google (GOOGL) were fully aware of the surveillance agency’s widespread collection of data and the mass monitoring of upstream internet traffic. Mr. Smith, Microsoft’s top lawyer since 2002, has become tech’s point man taking on the NSA by placing himself at the center of the post-Snowden offensive. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA, exposed the NSA’s snooping practices to the American people back in 2013.
“We made a conscious decision last year to focus more energy on this issue,” Mr. Smith told Ovide. “You can look at everything we’ve said for a long time and they all relate to one thing: We believe consumers will only use technology if they trust it.”
Mr. Snowden’s revelations helped spotlight how U.S. tech and telecom companies, including Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook (FB) and AOL, Inc, (AOL) for years cooperated with government intelligence-gathering efforts, and in some cases, the government intercepted data without the companies’ knowledge. Embarrassed by the revelations, some of those companies now are far more reluctant to cooperate if there is no explicit requirement for a legal warrant, and more vocal in criticizing government snooping.