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Microsoft Praises Curbs on U.S. Surveillance

It was the latest bruising battle among lawmakers but the U.S. Senate finally agreed on a compromise that will put an end to the Patriot Act, which has allowed government eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new Freedom Act, signed by President Barak Obama last night hours after its passage by the Senate with a 67-32 vote, takes away the National Security Agency's authority to gather calling data of millions of Americans and instead puts that in the hands of phone companies.

In wake of the disclosures two years ago by Edward Snowden at the scope of the NSA's surveillance efforts, which proponents say is critical in thwarting terrorist attacks, Congress and the president were under intense pressure by privacy advocates to stop the practice. Despite last month's Senate agreement to come up with a compromise that would water down the Patriot Act, which officially expired Monday morning, a strong coalition at the 11th hour moved to preserve it in the days leading up to the deadline.

Opponents of the new Freedom Act argue that it  still doesn't go far enough to protect the privacy of Americans but it is "an important step forward in striking a better balance between public safety and privacy," as noted today in a post by Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith.

"The USA Freedom Act will increase trust in technology by implementing essential reforms to the USA Patriot Act," said Smith in a blog post. "The legislation will ensure that the public is aware of what their government is doing by allowing companies to publish detailed transparency reports. Governments also need to act with proper accountability with proper regard for legal process and people's rights. The reforms of the FISA Court in the bill moves government accountability forward by increasing the transparency of its proceedings and rulings and introducing a process for amicus curiae. And the new law ends the bulk collection of data -- a program that a federal court recently struck down."

For its part, Smith, on behalf of Microsoft, took a leading role in bringing the IT industry together to push for the easing of surveillance. While praising the new Freedom Act, Smith renewed his call on the government to take further steps to ensure data privacy. "There's still more work to do, both here in the United States and internationally," Smith wrote. "High on that list is the creation of new international legal frameworks to tackle other important issues we face in ensuring the free flow of information around the world while respecting national sovereignty."

Passage of the new Freedom Act doesn't put an end to surveillance but keeps it out of the direct purview of the feds. Of course, if you have little trust in the phone companies' ability to better ensure your privacy, the new Freedom Act probably offers little solace.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2015 at 1:35 PM


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