Microsoft has allied with AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo! in calling for governments around the world to use secret surveillance of users of cloud-based services only in accordance with specific, defined legal processes. This is especially important in countries, such as the United States, that have individual freedoms guaranteed by law.
"People won't use technology they don't trust," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith writes in a post to The Official Microsoft Blog. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."
In an open letter to US President Barack Obama and the members of Congress, Microsoft and the other companies urged reform of widely reported spying activities.
"This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide," the letter notes. "The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual—rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for change."
The firms state that they will deploy the latest encryption technologies to protect user data—Microsoft announced its own plans for doing so just last week—and by "pushing back" government data requests that are not legal or reasonable in scope. And they are calling on the US government to take the lead globally by reforming its own governmental surveillance efforts. The firms have posted a full list of supported principles to the Reform Government Surveillance website.
The united front is timely, as President Obama has recently said he will present reforms for the secretive National Security Agency (NSA) that will ensure that the privacy rights of American citizens will not be violated. Various members of Congress have also authored bills aimed at responding to the NSA controversy, which erupted over the summer when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking information about the agency spying on US and international citizens.
Of course, like any real controversy, the NSA allegations are a bit nuanced. The United States isn't the only country engaged in this kind of data collection. And of course companies like Google are involved in massive data collection efforts of their own that have also garnered the attention of privacy advocates.