Microsoft Got 14 Data Requests on Paris Suspects, Smith Says

  • President says software maker responded to `lawful' inquiries
  • Microsoft executive speaks at RSA cybersecurity conference

Microsoft Corp. received 14 “lawful" requests for data related to terrorist suspects, some at large in France and Belgium, after the Paris attacks in November and the company responded within 30 minutes on average, President Brad Smith said.

Smith, speaking Tuesday at the RSA cybersecurity-industry conference in San Francisco, cited these as examples of the software maker’s ability to respond promptly to the need for information in terrorism cases if the orders follow what his company views as the proper legal procedure.

Smith used the speech to reiterate Microsoft’s support for Apple Inc. in its opposition to a U.S. judge’s order that the company help unlock a terrorist’s iPhone. Apple claims the case will set a precedent and threaten other users by creating a program that will let the FBI get around the phone’s encryption. The government has said it isn’t asking for a back door or trying to set a precedent, and is only concerned with accessing the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers in a December mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Microsoft plans to file a brief supporting Apple this week. Smith said the company is proud to do so and that strong encryption is key.

“When it comes to security, there is no technology as important as encryption," said Smith, who also serves as Microsoft’s chief legal officer. “Despite the best of intentions, one thing is clear: The path to hell starts at the back door.”

Smith cited the Paris terrorist attack requests to show that technology companies have the mechanism and will to help law enforcement when laws and privacy are protected. He has previously cited Microsoft’s cooperation in turning over the contents of e-mail accounts of the Charlie Hebdo attackers within 45 minutes of a valid request in January 2015.

Catching Up

For the second time in a week, Smith displayed what has become a traveling show of outdated technology meant to illustrate the age of the laws at play in Apple’s case.  

As he did at a congressional hearing last week, Smith showed off a “computer” from the last time the All Writs Act, which the government is citing in the Apple case, was updated. He held up a mechanical adding machine from 1912. Using old laws to seek access to private data is hurting sales of technology because users are losing trust, he said.

“The world is going to trust technology only if the law can catch up,” he said.

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