Microsoft joins forces with Google to sue the US government over surveillance transparency

Microsoft is teaming up with Google (no, you read that correctly) to sue the US government and win the right to reveal details surrounding official requests for user data. The two tech giants announced the lawsuit yesterday, taking the battle over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to a whole new level.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and other US government bodies utilise the mechanism to collect data on foreign Internet users, which has been in the news recently with activity through the likes of PRISM leaked to the media. Microsoft previously responded to the NSA controversy, stating the company is not spying on consumers.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, published the lawsuit announcement on Technet, complaining of the government's "continued unwillingness" to allow the company to publish information regarding FISA requests. With many believing both companies have indeed been spying on their online activities, Microsoft and Google are desperately attempting to clear their image through attempts to be as honest with consumers as legally possible.

The leaks by Edward Snowden, provided to the Guardian and Washington Post, revealed NSA claims about access to technology companies' data through PRISM. Smith continues:

"With the failure of our recent negotiations, we will move forward with litigation in the hope that the courts will uphold our right to speak more freely. And with a growing discussion on Capitol Hill, we hope Congress will continue to press for the right of technology companies to disclose relevant information in an appropriate way."


Good guy Microsoft standing up to government

Previously stating that while NSA does not have direct access to backend systems and services, the companies admitted they were legally unable to disclose how many data requests have been completed. "We believe we have a clear right under the US constitution to share more information with the public," said Smith's post. "The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data."

Smith did welcome an announcement made earlier this week by the US government, which detailed plans to publish the total number of national security requests for consumer data for the past 12 months. However, Microsoft's general counsel noted that the public deserves and the constitution guarantees more than what's currently in the works, "we believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email."

It's suggested that said figures should be published in a form that separates them from the number of demands that only capture metadata such as subscriber information associated with a particular email address. Smith explains, "we believe it's possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk. And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete."

The blog post aimed to not only lift Microsoft to the moral high ground, but also Google and other companies who are fighting for more transparency. Whether or not consumers will believe the walls of text that's being published is another question. What are your thoughts on the situation regarding collected data and governments? Are tech companies doing enough for customers?

Source: Technet, via: Guardian; thanks, Tragic, for the heads up!

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.