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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Microsoft Pushes Harder to Talk About Surveillance Orders

Microsoft on Tuesday called on the United State attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to give the company permission to talk about how it handles government surveillance requests.

The move represents an escalation of Microsoft’s campaign to speak more freely about the national security orders it receives for e-mails, Internet phone calls and other communications by users of Microsoft services. Secrecy laws severely limit what Microsoft and others can say about those orders, particularly the surveillance requests issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Microsoft and other companies have been frustrated by government limits on how they can respond to news stories about government surveillance orders, many of which were prompted by the leak of documents about electronic spying programs by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency. Technology companies have maintained that many reports have misinterpreted the leaked documents.

In a letter that Bradford Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, sent to Mr. Holder on Tuesday, Mr. Smith said the company had not made “adequate progress” in its discussions with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other members of intelligence agencies about sharing more details about its compliance with surveillance orders. Microsoft petitioned the government on June 19 to let it publish how many national security requests it has received. The company says the government has not yet responded to the request.

“In my opinion, these issues are languishing amidst discussions among multiple parts of the government, the Constitution itself is suffering, and it will take the personal involvement of you or the president to set things right,” Mr. Smith said in the letter.

“It’s time to face some obvious facts,” Mr. Smith continued. “Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information, especially when this information is likely to help allay public concerns.”