Microsoft today published a short blog post stating that it feels that recent government changes to how it reports surveillance activities are insufficient. Calling the decision by the federal government to publish more information on the quantity of consumer data requests relating to national security each year “a good start,” Microsoft claims the Constitution demands more progress.
Microsoft cites the founding document several times in its post, also declaring that it believes that it has “a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public.”
In a rare moment of solidarity, Microsoft name-checked Google, saying that the two companies agree that more must be made legally allowable to disclose. Both companies are in litigation with the government for the right to share more about what they are forced to hand to the government. Specifically, Microsoft wants to disclose how often user content such as the content of an email is demanded.
Revelations from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald showed that through a program called PRISM, the United States government requested hefty amounts of user data from large Internet companies.
There are gag rules around what can be said regarding government data requests. This stifles discussion, debate, and functional oversight of the government by its ultimate leaders, the citizenry. Microsoft and Google are also likely not particularly excited about sharing their private user data with intelligence agencies.
Microsoft, citing a “failure of [its] recent negotiations” promises to press forward with its lawsuit “in the hope that the courts will uphold [its] right to speak more freely.” The company claims to have met with the government on six different occasions. Microsoft indicated that its suit was filed in June.
You don’t often see a company worth hundreds of billions go full philosophy, but Microsoft went there (this appears to be a trend at the company – I’m looking at you, Frank):
The United States has long been admired around the world for its leadership in promoting free speech and open discussion. We benefit from living in a country with a Constitution that guarantees the fundamental freedom to engage in free expression unless silence is required by a narrowly tailored, compelling Government interest.
We believe there remains a path forward that will share more information with the public while protecting national security. Our hope is that the courts and Congress will ensure that our Constitutional safeguards prevail.
Microsoft is not always on the right side of privacy issues. However, in this case it is, and that is worth noting. Also, the combined Google and Microsoft legal budget is formidable. Perhaps progress will be made.