People will not use technologies they do not trust, and trust in technology has been eroded. From Edward Snowden’s revelatory bombshells to high-profile hacks of Target, Sony, and Ashley Madison, many headline-grabbing issues have shaken public confidence that privacy and free speech are really protected online.
“Trust is the absolute foundation of our entire industry,” said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith during a keynote speech at the 2016 RSA Conference in San Francisco. “But trust has been under threat. People have been questioning it – for good reason.”
While he outlined some of the actions his company is taking to remedy the online threats that chip away at public confidence, Smith emphasized that no single person or company can provide a complete solution.
“When we have a question this important, we need a conversation among ourselves and with the world,” he said. “Clearly as an industry, we not only have not just a role, but a responsibility to keep the public safe. Apple is making that point to congress today.”
While technology companies, including Microsoft itself, sometimes appear to have an adversarial relationship with governments and lawmakers, Smith described how valuable it can be when everyone is on the same side.
“One thing we haven’t shared previously – in the days and weeks after the Paris attacks last November, Microsoft received 14 legal requests for information involving people who were still at large,” Smith said. “We were able to determine that the requests were lawful, and respond in under 30 minutes.”
He believes security sector can and should work with government to update and clarify the laws governing digital information and privacy – including those at the heart of Apple’s current fight with the FBI over access to an iPhone used by one of the two terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino.
“We’ve all had the opportunity in recent weeks to read about the All Writs Act.” said Smith. “That law goes back almost to the founding of the country, and was last significantly modified in 1911. The most advanced computing device in 1911 was an adding machine. We do not need our courts to govern 21st-century technology with laws written for adding machines.”
Smith drew a clear line connecting online security to real-world safety and national security. As he encouraged the security sector to work together to address ever-changing online threats, he continually tied this exhortation back to public safety, personal privacy and freedom of expression – values that long predate the advent of computing, let alone the cloud.
“We need to be thoughtful, we need to be broad minded, and as much as anything, we need to use our voice and act,” he said. “We need to heed those values and fundamental rights that truly are timeless.”