American tech industry suffering due to unresolved surveillance policy issues, says exec

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One year after U.S. government surveillance activities were revealed by former Defense Department contractor Edward Snowden, American technology companies continue to feel negative repercussions, said Brad Smith, executive vice president and general Counsel for Microsoft.

Global customers are concerned about the geographic scope of warrants the U.S. government is serving today, said Smith June 24 during an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

"The American tech industry will rise or fall together," said Smith. "Certainly on the government surveillance issues our industry is almost entirely united."

Smith issued a plea to Congress to close the door on the unfettered bulk collection of data.

"The House got us close, and we should all hope that the Senate can get us the rest of the way," said Smith.

The USA Freedom Act (H.R. 3361), which initially set out to limit the National Security Agency's ability to collect information on U.S. citizens passed in the House May 22 with many critical privacy provisions stripped – causing civil liberties groups to jump ship on the bill it once cheered on.

The House got a second chance June 19 when it overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4870) – and passed the entire bill June 20 – with a provision that would cut funding to some of NSA's unwarranted government surveillance programs.

"It is unusual for Americans to look across the Atlantic and, at least publicly, find anything they like in Europe. But the Europeans have been at this basically since the 80's," said Smith.

By and large, European governments handle the issue of citizens' digital privacy better than the United States, he said. It's important, he added, to step back and think about how unusual the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is. It's secretive, publishes no public reports and, unlike a normal court, two sides are not represented, he said.

"This is not the type of approach that is likely to promote justice," said Smith.

Smith's remarks at Brookings were not the first time he has spoken out on government surveillance.

He reportedly told attendees at a technology conference June 19 that the U.S. government's demand for access to emails stored outside of the country is hurting business at Microsoft and other U.S.-based IT companies. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company was recently forced by a U.S. federal magistrate ruling to hand over emails and other data stored at a Microsoft data center in Ireland.

The data security issue "is not blowing over" Smith reportedly said. "It is getting worse, not better."

For more:
- go to the event page (includes archived webcast and speaker information)

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