“Targeting of Americans’ records ‘routine’” – Tom Burt, Microsoft Executive
The country is no longer America. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.
Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.
“Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.
The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.
Microsoft executive says U.S. overuses secret orders for Americans’ data
By Raphael Satter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States government is overusing its secret subpoena power to routinely gather vast amounts of data on American internet users, a senior Microsoft executive said in prepared testimony to Congress released on Wednesday.
In remarks for a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing, the executive said that in the last five years Microsoft had received 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year and that U.S. courts provided little by way of meaningful oversight.
Tom Burt, a vice president for customer security and trust, said that American law enforcement was ordering Microsoft to stay quiet about between one third to one quarter of the requests for data that it received, “developing a practice of reflexively asking to keep even routine investigations secret.”
“Providers, like Microsoft, regularly receive boilerplate secrecy orders unsupported by any meaningful legal or factual analysis,” Burt told lawmakers. “Many of these orders should never have been approved by the courts.”
The panel called a hearing into secrecy orders in the wake of revelations that the U.S. Department of Justice during Donald Trump’s administration had secretly sought the phone records of reporters and Democratic representatives to investigate the leak of classified material.
Word of the investigations outraged lawmakers and blew new life into efforts to rein in the federal government’s domestic surveillance powers.
Burt said that while the effort to target lawmakers and reporters disturb many Americans, “what may be most shocking is just how routine court-mandated secrecy has become when law enforcement targets Americans’ emails, text messages, and other sensitive data stored in the cloud.”
Burt called for ending indefinite secrecy orders, boosting transparency around their use, forcing the government to notify targets of such orders once their time was up, and raising the bar on such orders to prevent what he described as the current “rubberstamping process.”
EDITORS NOTE: This Geller Report column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.
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