Microsoft’s Top Lawyer Becomes a Civil Rights Crusader

from MIT Technology Review

When Apple CEO Tim Cook refused to help the FBI get into a mass murderer’s iPhone last winter, he was hailed for his boldness in fighting the government on a matter of principle. In fact, Cook was borrowing from the playbook of a top executive at Apple’s dowdier rival Microsoft—a genial, sandy-haired man named Brad Smith.

Smith has taken the government to court four times in the past three years, each time accusing it of breaching the Constitution in its efforts to get its hands on Microsoft customers’ data. He believes computers and the Internet have weakened vital checks on government surveillance that have typically helped to assure personal privacy. Now Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, says he is waging a legal war on the government in an attempt to restore those checks. “We shouldn’t depart from the historic balance,” Smith says, speaking in his bland corner office on Microsoft’s quiet campus in Redmond, Washington.

Smith’s cases affect anyone who stores data in the cloud, from large corporations to the millions of individuals using Skype and Web mail. The smartphones, browsers, and dating apps we have so enthusiastically embraced generate piles of data that can be reviewed by investigators. But restraints on the investigators’ power were mostly devised in a world where data was stored on paper. The Fourth Amendment and the laws and court rulings built around it force cops to get a warrant from a judge if they want to tap your phone, read your postal mail, or inspect papers in your home, for example. But while the police need a warrant to search your smartphone, they don’t need one to see many digital traces about your life, such as logs of your past movements from a cellular network. Unless the Supreme Court or Congress decide otherwise, our cloud data doesn’t have the same protections given to physical papers.

More here.

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