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Tools and Weapons

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Tools and Weapons

The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

Penguin Press,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Governments and tech companies need to work together for a safer tech future.

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Information technology dominates every aspect of our lives, and will soon become as ubiquitous as electricity. However, in the wrong hands it can be a weapon. That is why Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, insists that governments must work with the tech sector to build a safer future. Privacy and security are key, but so is recognizing that data is a renewable resource that should be shared, for the benefit of humanity. Smith offers detailed insight into our collective tech future based on his years of experience managing relationships among competitors and nations. Smith warns of the potentially catastrophic consequences of not getting ahead of powerful technology.


The NSA Snowden affair raised the question: What is more important, people’s privacy or public safety?

In 2013, Microsoft was just as alarmed as the public when The Guardian published a bombshell: The world’s biggest tech companies had contributed masses of private information from their customers’ accounts to a consortium called PRISM. Leaked documents from Edward Snowden at the US National Security Agency revealed that the United States government had been accessing citizens’ private information without the tech companies’ knowledge or consent.

Such an invasion of privacy violated the personal property rights of American citizens. No government can seize a citizen’s information without a warrant. Now, with servers holding people’s mail and personal information, the same laws should apply. Companies like Microsoft are like a bank where customers from all over the world store their data. Microsoft declines to turn over customer data without a proper legal process.

Microsoft would inform its customers if the government made requests for their data, and if faced with a gag order, it would challenge the order in court. The company...

About the Authors

President of Microsoft Brad Smith works with international associates on issues regarding cybersecurity, privacy, artificial intelligence, immigration, human rights and the environment. The New York Times labeled him the “de facto ambassador for the technology industry at large.” Carol Ann Browne is the senior director of communications at Microsoft. She works with Brad Smith on corporate communications worldwide.

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