Tech giants finally grow a spine and resist NSA spying

Microsoft, Google, even Facebook are protecting their bottom lines -- and you -- by fighting outrageous court orders and encrypting user content

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In a separate case last year, Microsoft received a National Security Letter -- the NSA's version of a subpoena -- requesting "basic subscriber information" regarding an "enterprise" customer. What's more, the letter contained a gag order to prevent the company from telling the customer it had turned over its data.

Microsoft challenged the gag order, saying it was a violation of the First Amendment. The government backed down.

Meanwhile, the software giant is encrypting many of its products, including Hotmail and Outlook, and encryption for Office 365 is coming, the company said at its TechEd conference last month. By 2015, it will use 2,048-bit encryption, a stronger protection level that would take a government far longer to crack.

The company's general counsel, Brad Smith, last week issued a call for widespread checks on data collection by the government, saying, "The U.S. government needs to address important unfinished business to reduce the technology trust deficit it has created," he wrote in a blog post.

Who has your back? Some surprising tech giants do

Which tech companies can you trust when it comes to protecting your privacy from government intrusion? Not Snapchat, not, and not Comcast, according to the EFF's fourth annual "Who Has Your Back" report, released last month. The fact that these companies made the "bad guys" list isn't much of a shock.

What is surprising is that Facebook and Google, often maligned for playing very fast and loose with personal data, come off looking very good. Those two companies (along with Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Microsoft,, Twitter, and Yahoo) received a perfect six stars in the report that gauges how hard companies fight to protect users' privacy from government data requests. In 2013, only made the six-star list.

The change has been dramatic. Not too long ago, Google was one of the very few -- maybe the only -- major tech company that routinely issued a transparency report detailing requests by the government for user data. "The sunlight brought about by a year's worth of Snowden leaks appears to have prompted dozens of companies to improve their policies when it comes to giving user data to the government," says EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman.

That's a lot of progress, even if many still vacuum up your personal data to help sell ads. It doesn't matter much whether Silicon Valley's newfound backbone in resisting government spying is motivated by principles or is simply a matter of protecting the bottom line. It's very good news. What a pleasure to write about tech companies doing the right thing -- for a change.

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This article, "Tech giants finally grow a spine and resist NSA spying," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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