Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French government has launched an investigation to find all of the suspects involved. Two suspects supposedly sent emails related to the attacks from their Microsoft Outlook accounts and the government has requested that the FBI have Microsoft hand them over, to which the company has obliged.
Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith noted in a recent speech that the request was legal and that it took the software giant less than hour to deliver the emails in questions. Smith said that this proves that private companies can work with governments to work towards apprehending criminals but stressed that open government access to consumer information, i.e. snooping, should only happen under strict regulations.
He suggested that if governments want to take full access to consumer information and out of the hands of private companies then those changes should be put into law first.
“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… Democratic societies, not private companies, need to decide on the balances to be struck between public values such as public safety and personal privacy.” – Brad Smith, Microsoft lawyer
Earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron caused outrage after proclaiming that should he be re-elected, he would work to ban all encrypted mobile communication services like WhatsApp, unless the companies behind those apps build backdoors which the government could use to snoop on customer conversations, more on that here.
Microsoft’s swift response here is evidence that constant government surveillance and breach of customer privacy is not necessary, provided they follow the correct means to obtain information they are looking for.