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Ex-Privacy Head Of Microsoft Warned About NSA Spying 2 Years Before Snowden leaks

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

A couple of years before Snowden leaked details about NSA’s surveillance programs, Caspar Bowden, Microsoft’s Ex-Chief Privacy Officer, had tried to warn his company about the surveillance dangers of selling cloud computing solutions to non-US institutions. Bowden revealed these details while speaking at the 31st annual edition of Chaos Computer Congress which was held from 27th to 31st December in the German city of Hamburg. He also disclosed that he was fired from the job just a couple of months after he made his recommendations to the Redmond based software giant.

Speaking at the event, Bowden said that he had cautioned National Technical Officers from 40 different locations that by selling cloud solutions to foreign governments and organizations, the company was in fact exposing them to mass surveillance carried out by the American intelligence agencies. While the PRISM surveillance program was not known to the general public in 2011, the US government had passed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendment Act (FISAAA) way back in 2008. FISAAA is all about gathering intelligence from foreign nationals who are based outside the country and it gave sweeping powers to the intelligence agencies.

As per the provisions available in FISAAA, American companies and service providers must assist the U.S. government’s spying activities or risk facing criminal charges in the court under the espionage act, a fact that was collaborated by Marissa Mayer from Yahoo. Bowden also revealed that the Act made it almost impossible for foreign organizations to trust the software or encryption services designed or developed by the U.S. companies. And even if a US made software or service was perfectly sound to begin with, intelligence agencies could always find ways to introduce backdoors or vulnerabilities in them through malicious software updates.

Bowden further said that the surveillance carried out by the agencies like NSA is not always about protecting national interests or capturing criminals, it could also be a purely political surveillance designed to safeguard the economic and political interests of the country. And since there is zero constitutional protection available to foreigners within United States, the agencies are able to continue with their mass surveillance practices without facing any kind of repercussions.

Bowden also revealed how his revelations were met with indifference by the press and politicians. Leading newspapers, journalists as well politicians from America and Europe did not take his allegations seriously since they did not believe that it was possible for the US intelligence agencies to introduce vulnerabilities in encrypted softwares or services.

Commenting on the security issues of cloud computing, Bowden said that while it is possible to encrypt and store data securely in a cloud, it is not possible to protect data since most privacy laws cover communications and not the computing aspect of such services. He also recommended that EU companies and governments must stop transferring data to US based cloud services until the US government assures them of zero surveillance. Bowden further said that the only way for the companies to ensure total safety and privacy was to host their data locally and use open source software that is known to be free from vulnerabilities.

February 3, 2015

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