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Brad Smith
Brad Smith

SAN FRANCISCO – The United States’ approach to Internet privacy and surveillance needs to change, and U.S. government officials were wrong if they believed the furor over Edward Snowden’s leaks would simply blow over, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith told an audience here this morning.

“It is not blowing over,” Smith said at the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco. “When I meet with officials in foreign capitals in June of 2014, it is clear that it is getting worse, not better.”

Smith said foreign governments and companies are less receptive Microsoft’s services, in part because of the Snowden revelations as well as rulings that make it possible for law enforcement in the U.S. to request customer data from servers overseas without having to go through a legal process in a foreign country. That’s a problem for a cloud business.

“One of the prerequisites of being in the cloud business is that you must offer services that people can trust,” Smith said.

In his view, the stances taken by the U.S. government are undermining the trust of users who would otherwise be interested in the services of American companies. Meanwhile, other governments are looking at privacy laws and policies that could block U.S. firms from competing abroad.

He also thinks that the moves taken by the U.S. to seek out data stored outside its borders will come back to bite Americans in the future. After all, it’s unlikely that the government wants to allow foreign agencies to get data from American users without going through the domestic legal system first.

Smith doesn’t think there’s a silver bullet piece of privacy legislation coming, though. Part of that has to do with the gridlock in Congress in recent years, he said, but it also has to do with the competing goals of privacy and national security that legislators are forced to weigh. There’s no easy path forward, but one message of his is clear: doing nothing isn’t good enough.

Related Commentary by Monica Guzman: 3 ways Glenn Greenwald changed how I look at privacy

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