Microsoft's Top Lawyer Was Once Asked To Help Stop A Serial Killer

Brad SmithMicrosoftBrad Smith

Microsoft’s top lawyer, Brad Smith, is making the case to the international community that the world needs international laws to cover cyber-spying.

He’s written an essay on the topic and will be participating in a panel on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

What caught our eye was a paragraph where he talks about how police once asked him to help them stop a serial killer.

His point is that the legal system that allows police in one country to ask tech companies in another country for help in investigating criminals is old, and slow and needs to be updated. He writes:

One problem today is that governments still rely on international legal processes that were created in the 1800’s. Under the so-called Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty — or MLAT — government authorities must go through bureaucratic hurdles that address 21st century problems at 19th century speed.

I still remember the day in 1994 when I was in my office at Microsoft in Paris, on the receiving end of a phone call from the police in a Nordic country pursuing a serial murderer they believed was about to strike again. They had recovered his PC hard disk, but he was on the loose and they were having a hard time making sense of his computer files. They were well aware of the MLAT processes, including the likelihood they would require as long as two months to get a U.S. legal order.

He’s proposing that countries gather to update MLAT to cover how Internet cloud companies deal with requests from foreign governments for data.

Of course, the issue of governments wanting access to Internet data is not just about helping police track down killers. It’s about spying on citizens as a routine matter. And he’s right: the world does need international laws to cover what various governments can and cannot do to nab data from Internet companies across the borders.

Foreign companies have already begun to shy away from the companies like Microsoft because of government spying. U.S. companies are set to lose a collective $US35 billion through 2016 thanks to this, think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation says.

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