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Bill Gates Backs Microsoft's Snooping Suit Against Feds

Microsoft Founder Bill Gates said he's on board with the company's move last week to sue the U.S. Department of Justice seeking to restrict the number of court orders to turn over e-mails and documents residing in its datacenters. At issue is the vast number of those warrants that include gag orders, meaning customers are in the dark when they're under investigation, a violation of First and Fourth Amendment rights, according to Microsoft.

Gates, who of course isn't involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft, was asked to weigh in on the lawsuit, among other matters such as free trade, the current U.S. presidential campaign and the gender gap in computer science, during an interview by Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler (the one-hour discussion was webcast and is available here).

Regarding Microsoft's latest lawsuit, Gates said the government will have to strike the same balance between customers' right to privacy as prior regimes did when federal wire tapping was commonplace. Gates predicted ultimately Congress will have to strike that balance, though he didn't discuss any timeframe, or its willingness to address it in the current political environment.

"This one is about is there a higher threshold that the government has to meet in order to have that disclosure take place without notification to the company involved," Gates said. "Certainly there probably are some cases where they should be able to go in covertly and get information about a company's e-mail, but the position Microsoft is taking in this suit is that should be extraordinary. It shouldn't just be a matter of course there's a gag order automatically put in."

The suit revealed the government has filed 5,624 demands for e-mails or documents residing in a Microsoft cloud datacenter. The court orders included gag orders on nearly half of them, totaling 2,576 of those requests. In 68 percent of those cases, there's no end date for the order, the company claimed.

Adler also asked Gates whom his preference is among the candidates running for president. Given none of the candidates share his views about global free trade, which Gates strongly believes is critical to the U.S. economy, he declined to endorse anyone.

"I'm not going to publicly pick a candidate, our foundation will work with whoever gets elected," Gates said. "There are things like being for free trade, certain types of innovation in the education space, R&D, those are the things. I hope voters weigh those in and we get someone who is willing to invest in the future."

Despite opposition to President Barack Obama's free trade agreement, Gates believes they are critical to the U.S. economy and toward overall expansion. "I think it would be a mistake for the country to not continue to engage in free trade deals," he said. "Some people think we ought to get out of the free trade deals that we're in. And I do know there are large parts of the American economy that benefit from global scale. In fact, we are the economy that by far benefits from global scale."

Regarding the lack of progress in drawing more women into IT engineering, Gates indicated he was troubled by that trend. "We have to look, what is it about the appearance of the people that's pushing them the away," he said. "You see the dropping away happens in high school, it happens in college, even from Microsoft. When we hire women to be a programmer, more of them will switch over into general management and get off of the pure engineering track than men. By the time you get 10 years into a career, you have a gigantic difference between a number of men in the hard core coding jobs versus the women."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/20/2016 at 1:00 PM


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