A big fuss has been made in recent weeks by Microsoft as it seeks to establish itself as a privacy champion, both for the public and business consumer. With a large part of its future riding on the success of its cloud operations, this is an area of enormous importance to Redmond.
As such, recent news that, following an FBI request, it handed over data to the authorities within 45 minutes of having been asked, comes as something of a shock. The French government, seeking information on Charlie Hebdo suspects following the attack, asked the FBI for assistance. The FBI then approached Microsoft concerning information contained in two customer accounts, which it then promptly handed over with a minimum of fuss.
The company made sure to clarify its response to users, with Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith stating that although the request was “proper” given the situation,
“Democratic societies, not private companies, need to decide on the balances to be struck between public values such as public safety and personal privacy. 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 ourselves.”
As Microsoft challenge the US government on the issue of privacy, even going so far as to enter contempt of court, this development poses a number of interesting questions. What is the ‘right’ level of privacy for citizens to enjoy? Is there such thing as a situation which takes precedence over privacy? Are proposed laws geared towards pragmatic realism or are they a power grab?
With the battle over privacy becoming more intensely fought as time goes by, expect to hear a lot more on this topic within the next few months.
Was Microsoft right to hand over the data? Let us know in the comments below.