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Microsoft’s Smith Says Secret Subpoenas Hurt U.S. Tech Companies

Microsoft Corp. President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith criticized secret data subpoenas sent by the government to cloud providers like his company and Apple Inc., saying gag orders on requests for personal information undermine freedoms and are hurting U.S. technology companies in Europe.

Last week the New York Times reported that during the administration of former President Donald Trump , the U.S. Department of Justice demanded records from Apple relating to two Democrats on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. CNBC reported Microsoft received a confidential request for the personal emails of a Congressional staffer. Both companies were under nondisclosure orders that prevented them from talking about or alerting the subjects of the data seizures.

The U.S. government should change the rules so that people whose data is being demanded can be informed and choose whether to file a legal challenge to the subpoenas, Smith said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Microsoft in 2016 filed a case against the DOJ related to the gag orders, and a year later the department issued new guidelines it said would scale back the practice of these kinds of confidential requests.

If we fail to do so, we undermine longstanding fundamental freedoms in the country and, frankly, for those of us in the tech sector, we’re put in the middle,” Smith said. “This should be an issue where the government has to go most of the time to the individuals whose information they are seeking.”

It’s a concern that has been raised with the Biden administration by European leaders, Smith said. “They want to see new assurances and safeguards that the U.S. government isn’t going to go to a U.S. court to ask a U.S. company to turn over data that belongs to Europeans, and until we get that sorted out it is basically holding back in our view the tech sector in Europe.”

In the interview, Smith said he expects to see additional regulation on the biggest technology companies in both the U.S. and Europe. Last week, House Democrats and Republicans introduced a series of bills that would place significant new constraints on how tech platforms run their businesses and give antitrust enforcers more legal authority. One proposal would require Inc., Apple and other U.S. technology giants to sell or exit key businesses. Smith said aspects of some of the bills “absolutely” would apply to Microsoft. Still, other parts mainly relate to some of the Redmond, Washington-based company’s rivals.

Source: Bloomberg