Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith spoke to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today, and he brought an antique piece of technology to prove his point.
Smith was part of a hearing entitled “International Conflicts of Law Concerning Cross Border Data Flow and Law Enforcement Requests,” during which he argued that the U.S. government needs to modernize laws and international agreements.
While the nation has plenty of old laws, Smith argues that the ones pertaining to technology have not evolved along with advancement in electronics and the way people use computers.
To illustrate the age of one law that’s caused Microsoft a lot of trouble, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, Smith brought IBM’s first “laptop” with him to his testimony. The IBM PC Convertible was released the same year the law was passed.
— House Judiciary ⚖ (@HouseJudiciary) February 25, 2016
“Our law is old and outdated. When Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Ronald Reagan was president, Tip O’Neill was Speaker and Mark Zuckerberg was two years old,” Smith told the committee. “Technology has moved ahead by leaps and bounds. But at least in this field, the law has mostly stood still.”
He then opened up the oblong screen of the IBM laptop, and compared it to the Microsoft Surface he had next to him. With dual floppy drives, a monochrome screen and 256KB of RAM, the old IBM machine was a modern marvel when it was released. But unlike the law, computing has changed.
“The [Surface] on sale today has 355,000 times as much storage capacity as the floppy diskette that one had to use in this computer that was sold when [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act] was passed,” Smith said. “Technology has moved forward. Now the law needs to catch up.”
Smith used some more outdated tech to announce that Microsoft stands behind Apple “wholeheartedly” in the ongoing fight between the iPhone maker and the FBI. When asked about Microsoft’s position on the case, he pulled out a 1911 adding machine.
“We at Microsoft support Apple and will be filing an amicus brief next week,” Smith said. “”We do not believe that courts should seek to resolve issues of 21st century technology with law that was written in the era of the adding machine.”
An amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief lets companies and outside entities add comments to court cases that aren’t involved in. Apple filed an amicus brief last year in Microsoft’s ongoing fight against the outdated laws Smith was arguing against today.
You can watch the full livestream below. Smith’s comments start around 2 hours and 30 minutes into the video. And check out GeekWire’s article yesterday for an in-depth look at Smith’s written testimony, Microsoft’s argument for modernizing laws, and the legal predicament international technology companies face when complying with conflicting laws around the world.