For more than 200 years, the Fourth Amendment has prohibited illegal search and seizure, but the world is a lot different now than it was in the 18th century. In a world of high technology and a high awareness of terrorist threats, governments and citizens have been forced to reassess the definition of privacy.

This was the topic at hand when Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president, legal and corporate affairs, at Microsoft, spoke at a panel called “The Future of Privacy” at New York University.

The first question that must be asked, according to Smith, is “Will we continue to live in a society where the government must have probably cause?” The question relates to matters of bulk collection. Now that Big Data analytics provide so many opportunities to get information from emails and other databases and searching that information for connections, can there be true transparency anymore?

Smith spoke at length about the government’s surveillance, noting that Microsoft was finally able to reveal information about data the government had collected from the company. He also spoke about Microsoft’s interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Acts (FISA) courts, which meet in secret, to provide opinions and authorize the collection of sensitive information, stating that it was difficult for lawyers to respond to documents where entire pages were redacted.

While the White House emphasizes the fact that it is only looking at information about foreigners, Smith notes that, as an international company, Microsoft’s customers hail from around the world. So the company has focused on protecting its data, working on encryption, inspecting code and working legal protections into contracts. Smith stated his support for new international laws that can help protect enterprises around the world.

Another issue that Smith noted was that there are cross-border concerns. U.S. law focuses a great deal on the relationship between the government and citizens, while European Union law is concerned with the relationship between companies and customers.

The next question Smith posed was whether or not people care. In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss the new paradigm of privacy in a high-tech world.


In the meantime, check out the following privacy-related stories:

The gathering storm: What to expect in the future of cybersecurity litigation

International privacy laws still pose challenges for the discovery process

Newspapers get Pulitzer Prize thanks to Snowden leaks

How closely is the board paying attention to cyber risks?