Internet Giants to Government: Drop Dead

While waiting for Congress to come forward on surveillance, providers are making their own moves to protect customers’ privacy.

When French authorities investigating the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris traced the e-mail addresses of two suspects to accounts on Microsoft servers, the company was asked to hand over the contents immediately. In less than an hour, it complied. No laws or international treaties required Microsoft to respond so quickly. The decision, taken while the suspected attackers were still at large, was a judgment call—one that Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, says the company shouldn’t have been left to make on its own. “If those in government want to shift the line between safety and privacy, the appropriate path is to do so by changing the law rather than asking those of us in the private sector to shift this balance by ourselves,” he said on Jan. 20 at a conference on data security in Brussels.

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