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Microsoft to build 'transparency centres' for source code checks

Governments invited to Brussels for a look up Redmond's skirts

Manneken Pis statue, Brussels

Microsoft has announced it will establish a set of "transparency centres" around the world, at which government clients can rifle through its source code to satisfy themselves it contains no back doors.

Announced last week at the Munich Security Conference, Microsoft's veep for security Matt Thomlinson said the centres “...will offer government customers an increased ability to review our source code” and advance “our long-standing program that provides government customers with the ability to review our source code, reassure themselves of its integrity and confirm there are no back doors.”

Just how many transparency centres will be created, or where they will be, is not disclosed. Redmond doesn't seem to be in a hurry to build them: Thomlinson's announcement says “It is my hope to open the Brussels Transparency Center by the end of this year.”

One by the end of the year? Take that, NSA and other oppressors of liberty.

Whatever the scale of the effort, the announcement continues a pattern of Microsoft activities pointing out that its software doesn't leak so much as a bit in the direction of anyone you wouldn't want to see that bit.

Just what level of access to source code is not, however, explained. Last December, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote that the company believes in giving government customers “an appropriate ability to review our source code, reassure themselves of its integrity, and confirm there are no back doors.” Is that appropriate to customers? Or appropriate to Microsoft inasmuch it will allow comfort without compromising code declared commercial-in-confidence but which could conceal something interesting?

Yes, that observation is a tad cynical. But also, surely, is announcing a network of “Transparency centres” by revealing the existence of just one and giving that facility a far-from-taxing aspirational opening date eleven months from now. And what's with the name, “Transparency centres”? Orwell himself didn't do much better with the Ministry of Truth.

Thomlinson also floated another idea at the conference, namely a “'G20 + 20' group – 20 governments and 20 global information and communications technology firms – to draft a set of principles for acceptable behavior in cyberspace.” That body, he said, could help to rebuild trust in technology that has been so badly disturbed by recent revelations. ®

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