Microsoft's CEO explains why his company sued the US government

The company's commitment to privacy drove it to fight gag orders, he says

Microsoft surprised the world last month when it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that the frequent practice of attaching gag orders to search warrants for customer data violates the U.S. Constitution.

On Monday, CEO Satya Nadella told a group of tech luminaries why the company did so: Microsoft has a strong view on its privacy promises to users, and the company will fight to prevent government overreach that, in its view, compromises the principles of privacy.

Governments have a compelling need to help preserve public safety, but Microsoft wants to make sure that users' privacy is also preserved, Nadella said.

"We are hoping that there is a new framework of law that allows, in fact, our government in the United States to get the right balance between privacy and public safety," Nadella said during an interview at the Technology Alliance's annual State of Technology luncheon in Seattle, monitored via webcast. "The onus is on the United States to get that right, because we are, after all, the beacon that everyone else will look to. If we get it right, every other democracy will look to us as a model."

To that end, he and Microsoft President Brad Smith have called on governments to work together on rules that can cement both privacy protections and governments' ability to keep citizens safe.

What remains to be seen is how well that push will work out. Governments around the world are wrestling with how to deal with encrypted systems that prevent anyone, even the companies that created the system in the first place, from getting access to data inside.

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