Microsoft handed FBI data on Charlie Hebdo probe in 45 minutes

Placards which read "Je Suis Charlie" are displayed in the European Parliament on Jan. 13, 2015 in Strasbourg, France.
Placards which read “Je Suis Charlie” are displayed in the European Parliament on Jan. 13, 2015 in Strasbourg, France.
(Frederick Florin / AFP/Getty Images)

Within an hour of being asked, Microsoft turned over data linked to the Charlie Hebdo probe to the FBI, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith said in a speech delivered in Brussels on Tuesday.

The French government sought emails from two customer accounts as it pursued the Charlie Hebdo suspects. Microsoft concluded that the request was “proper” and delivered it to the FBI in New York, all in 45 minutes,” Smith said.

That showed private companies can cooperate with the government, according to Smith —though he added that extra snooping should only happen if strictly regulated.


If governments want to expand security services’ power over the Internet, as Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has recently suggested, Smith said, then changes should be made to the law.

“If those in government want to shift the line between safety and privacy, the appropriate path is to do so by changing the law rather than asking those of us in the private sector to shift this balance ourselves,” he said. “Democratic societies, not private companies, need to decide on the balances to be struck between public values such as public safety and personal privacy.”

Personal information and data should not be accessed or seized without proper legal process, he said, echoing a warning from EU data privacy watchdogs last week that plans to strenghten spy programs — such as Cameron’s proposed ban on encrypted text messages — may harm individual liberties.

Twitter: @traceylien