In response to mounting criticism from the U.K. media, Microsoft has now confirmed that it complied with a request for information from authorities last week within 30 minutes of receiving an order. This was in relation to the horrific terrorist attack in London on Thursday.
The attack in Westminster left four people dead and many more injured. In the days following the attack, the encryption debate again reared its head, with U.K. home secretary Amber Rudd stating “there should be no place for terrorists to hide.” This came after reports emerged that the perpetrator, British man Khalid Masood, was using WhatsApp minutes before he mowed down pedestrians on Westminster bridge and fatally stabbed a policeman.
In an interview broadcast yesterday on U.K. network ITV, Microsoft president Brad Smith said that the company would not help government “hack customers,” but it would comply with any legal requests to provide specific information. The Rupert Murdoch-operated Sun tabloid newspaper subsequently ran a pretty misleading article based on the interview, stating in its headline that Microsoft “refuses Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s demand for more help on terror after Westminster attack.”
In fact, Smith said the company would always turn over data when “legally compelled to,” which is the stance that most internet companies (publicly, at least) adhere to. What it wouldn’t do, according to Smith, would be to provide any kind of backdoor to its customers’ data.
In the hours that followed the Sun’s article, Microsoft published this statement, explaining that it already had complied with a legal order regarding the recent London attack.
Microsoft confirmed that it had received last week lawful orders seeking email information relating to the terrorist attack in London, and that it had promptly provided the information requested. This follows prompt action when Microsoft responded to 14 lawful requests following the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris and the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
In the company’s statement, Smith added that Microsoft responded within half an hour to “verify that the legal order was valid” and subsequently provided law enforcement with the information it was looking for. However, Smith was quick to stress that this isn’t the same thing as providing information through a clandestine backdoor.
“Our global team is on call 24/7 and responds when it receives a proper and lawful order,” said Smith. “This of course is different from helping a government outside the rule of law to turn over private information or hack or attack a customer, which we’ve said clearly we will not do. We’re committed both to protecting public safety and safeguarding personal privacy, and we believe that proper legal process is the key to striking this balance.”
This latest uproar comes as YouTube faces growing pressure from brands over the inadvertent pairing of advertisements with controversial videos, though to counter this Google recently promised stricter policy enforcement and more control for advertisers. Elsewhere, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have also faced lawsuits over their roles in facilitating networking between and within terrorist organizations.
Put simply, the knives are out for technology companies.