Microsoft has written to U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to urge him to let the company describe more fully to the public the extent of federal government surveillance of its customers, following the PRISM scandal.
Brad Smith, the company’s general counsel, used unusually dramatic tones to beg Holder to persuade President Obama to be more open with the public about how the NSA and other agencies obtain and sift data from big tech companies. (Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple have all been linked to the PRISM program).
In a letter dated yesterday, Smith told Holder “the Constitution is suffering” because of Obama Administration foot-dragging:
I’m writing to ask you to get involved personally in assessing the Constitutional issues raised by Microsoft and other companies that have repeatedly asked to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information. In my opinion, these issues are languishing amidst discussions among multiple parts of the Government, the Constitution itself is suffering, and it will take the personal involvement of you or the President to set things right.
The letter continues as a broadside, hinting strongly that administration’s lack of transparency on the surveillance issue is non-Constitutional. Some excerpts:
Last week we requested official permission to publicly explain practices that are the subject of newly – leaked documents that refer to Microsoft and have now been misinterpreted in news stories around the world. This request was rejected.
This opposition and these delays are serving poorly the public, the Government itself, and most importantly, the Constitutional principles that we all put first and foremost.
It’s time to face some obvious facts. Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling Government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information, especially when this in formation is likely to help allay public concerns.
Put simply, we need you to step in to ensure that common sense and our Constitutional safeguards prevail.
Smith elaborated on the letter in a blog post, which includes these excerpts:
We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the Government is stopping us.
Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand.
The world needs a more open and public discussion of these practices. While the debate should focus on the practices of all governments, it should start with practices in the United States. In part, this is an obvious reflection of the most recent stories in the news. It’s also a reflection of something more timeless. The United States has been a role model by guaranteeing a Constitutional right to free speech. We want to exercise that right. With U.S. Government lawyers stopping us from sharing more information with the public, we need the Attorney General to uphold the Constitution.
It turns out Microsoft can write a clear, direct and powerful memo, when it wants to.
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