Security Advisor

Former Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer: 'I Don't Trust Microsoft Now'

Casper Bowden said Microsoft is involved in a program that is anti-democratic.

According to yet another PRISM-related item from the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, Caspar Bowden, who held the title of chief privacy advisor for Microsoft from 2002 to 2011, said he has little faith in the privacy commitment of Microsoft in wake of the NSA allegations.

"I didn't know about PRISM when I was at Microsoft and I don't trust Microsoft now," said Bowden during a recent privacy conference in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He continued to say that after allegations linking Microsoft to the PRISM surveillance program, he only uses open source software that he can personally verify the underlining code.

If Microsoft's ties to the NSA program occurred during Bowden's tenure, it's somewhat understandable that he might not have been privileged to any information on the subject. While he took the lead in implementing privacy policies for 40 countries Microsoft operated in, the U.S. was not one of them.

Bowden, who now is an independent privacy advocate, said that the whole PRISM situation was a direct attack on the ideals of a democratic society. "The public now has to think about the fact that anybody in public life, or person in a position of influence in government, business or bureaucracy, now is thinking about what the NSA knows about them," said Bowden. "So how can we trust that the decisions that they make are objective and that they aren't changing the decisions that they make to protect their career? That strikes at any system of representative government."

While Microsoft wouldn't directly comment on Bowden's statements, it reiterated its stand that it only aids federal law enforcement agencies when prompted by court order and said that a level of transparency on the side of the federal government is needed for customer confidence.

"We believe greater transparency on the part of governments -- including the U.S. government -- would help the community understand the facts and better debate these important issues," said a Microsoft statement. "That's why we've taken a number of steps to try and secure permission, including filing legal action with the U.S. government."

For Microsoft's part, it has made somewhat of an effort to practice what it preaches. The company last week released aggregate data on the global law enforcement requests it received in the first half of 2013. However, various national security law enforcement requests were omitted from that report.

The mistrust of Microsoft doesn't just come from a single former employee (who may or may not have personal reasons for speaking out). In Redmond magazine's October cover story, more than half (50.7 percent) of readers surveyed said they don't believe Microsoft is being truthful in its PRISM involvement, and 48.6 percent have either halted deploying data in Microsoft's cloud offerings or have brought the data back in-house.

"We're living through a transformation in surveillance power that's never been seen before on earth," said Bowden. "And we don't know what type of government or leader will come to power next and exploit it. It could be the next president. It could be this one."


About the Author

Chris Paoli (@ChrisPaoli5) is the associate editor for Converge360.


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