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Brad Smith handles pressure pretty well. But Microsoft Corporation’s general counsel had to be feeling it in December. Media coverage of the National Security Agency’s vast data-mining program, courtesy of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, had all the big tech companies scrambling to answer questions. And the stakes couldn’t have been higher­­: Microsoft can’t survive, much less prosper, if its customers lose confidence in its software and services. The companies, in turn, sought to seize the moment by challenging the NSA program and demanding the right to disclose what they’ve turned over to the government, and what they haven’t.

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