Microsoft would weigh UK encryption law, lawyer says

Microsoft is weighing how best to balance the privacy of its users with proposed laws, including one in the United Kingdom, that could curb its business unless it agrees to certain limits on encryption, the company's top lawyer said Wednesday. 

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, told an audience in Silicon Valley that the company would consider what to do if a proposed U.K. law limiting encryption were to take effect.

“[The U.K.] is a big market, and it’s a country we believe has a fundamental rule of law in place,” Smith said at an event hosted by the Chertoff Group. “We still don’t like it, but you could imagine one argument that says, ‘OK, we’re going to do it.’ ”

Smith also left open the possibility that Microsoft might not cooperate or might not support similar laws in other countries where “you don’t have confidence fundamental rights are going to be protected.”

His comments, reported by The Wall Street Journal, mark what could be a turning point in the high-stakes debate between governments and tech companies over encryption.

Just last week, Microsoft was one of more than 30 companies calling on President Obama not to require companies to weaken their encryption for the purposes of criminal probes.

Disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance by former contractor Edward Snowden have increased tech firms’ desire to protect consumer information. This desire becomes problematic when law enforcement is limited from accessing data in criminal and national security investigations, governments argue. 

—This post has been updated.