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'I don't trust Microsoft' after NSA disclosures says former privacy chief

Open source is the way to go warns Bowden

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Caspar Bowden, who was Microsoft's European chief privacy advisor from 2002 to 2011, has said that he no longer trusts his former employer after the disclosures about its involvement in NSA surveillance schemes.

Speaking at the Congress on Privacy and Surveillance in Switzerland on Monday, Bowden said that he wasn't aware of PRISM, whereby the NSA could trawl through Microsoft's servers (encrypted or otherwise), during his tenure at Redmond. He oversaw Microsoft's privacy strategy in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa during his tenure.

Bowden said that the extent of surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, has convinced him that the current system is fatally flawed. In particular, the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 for broad data trawling could be dangerous to democracy he warned – a view shared by former US president Jimmy Carter.

"The public now has to think about the fact that anybody in public life, or person in a position of influence in government, business or bureaucracy, now is thinking about what the NSA knows about them," he told the audience in Lausanne, The Guardian reports.

"So how can we trust that the decisions that they make are objective and that they aren't changing the decisions that they make to protect their career? That strikes at any system of representative government."

These days Bowden said he is sticking with open source software that allows him to examine the underlying code itself and has also abandoned owning a mobile phone for the last two years.

Bowden's not some pinko hippie. After a spell at Goldman Sachs he became a director of the Foundation for Information Policy think-tank before being lured to Redmond to oversee the privacy controls on its software in Europe. But since leaving he has been scathing about his former employer.

In a July interview with the London School of economics, Bowden said that the recent trend, kickstarted by Google and joined by Microsoft in March, was "purely public relations strategy," since it only covered requests for data under PRISM and not under the FISA 702 regulations, which in any case only apply to American citizens and not the rest of the world.

"There's been a grinding down of people's privacy expectations in a systematic way as part of the corporate strategy, which I saw in Microsoft," he said. "As for the secret surveillance agenda, most people in the UK do not seem to care about it, because they lack accurate information in the media about what exactly is happening." ®

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