Internet giants Google and Microsoft, so often online rivals, have jointly filed a lawsuit against the United States government in an issue surrounding privacy laws. The companies are seeking to inform their users if and when their online activity is being monitored by government agencies.
The action has been taken after numerous meetings between the two parties were fruitless. Microsoft EVP for legal and corporate affairs Brad Smith has come out to say on the matter:
“We hoped that these discussions would lead to an agreement acceptable to all. While we appreciate the good faith and earnest efforts by the capable Government lawyers with whom we negotiated, we are disappointed that these negotiations ended in failure.”
He went on to say that published information needs to be clear and secure, and that:
“There are many days when Microsoft and Google stand apart. But today our two companies stand together… We both remain concerned with the Government’s continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders.”
Despite the government agreeing to publish an annual report stating how many national security requests it puts out every year, the two technology giants want more detailed information published and also how much data is actually being sent to investigators via secret court orders. This all become apparent during the Edward Snowden and PRISM controversy.
Smith went on to say that:
“Yesterday, the government announced that it would begin publishing the total number of national security requests for customer data for the past 12 months and do so going forward once a year. The government’s decision represents a good start. But the public deserves and the Constitution guarantees more than this first step.”
“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 reason behind the legal battle is not wholly a moral one with both companies concerned the lack of transparency is hurting their revenue – especially their cloud services. A study has suggested that the NSA spying program revelations could potentially cost U.S businesses between $22 and $35 billion over the next three years.
With initial discussions deemed a failure by Microsoft representative Smith, legal action is considered the only viable route left. Expectations are that Congress will press continuously for important information to become more accessible for the average internet user. He concluded that:
“We benefit from living in a country with a Constitution that guarantees the fundamental freedom to engage in free expression unless silence is required by a narrowly tailored, compelling Government interest. We believe there remains a path forward that will share more information with the public while protecting national security.”