Privacy and Security in the Age of NSA and Edward Snowden |

Privacy and Security in the Age of NSA and Edward Snowden

Concerns over online security are more urgent now than ever. The Edward Snowden whistleblowing incident of 2013, in particular, has sparked controversy over issues of privacy and trust, bringing to the fore heated debates over citizens’ rights to privacy and government legislation in the United States and around the world. In a wide-ranging talk on these issues, Mr Richard Sauer, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Corporation, spoke on the origins of this ongoing debate. He also shared his views on how technological companies, including Microsoft, can help pave the way for constructive dialogue. The talk was chaired by Dr Ashish Lall, Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Brave New Digital World

Public outcry has been swift and furious ever since it came to light in June 2013 that the US government had been monitoring citizens’ private online data. This information, which was leaked to the media by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, has intensified the debate over citizens’ rights to their privacy and the extent of state powers when it comes to law enforcement. In fact, such a debate has been going on for decades, said Mr Richard Sauer, who traced its origins to the 4th Amendment in the US’ Bill of Rights, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by the State. In times of crisis, he said, the “pendulum swings very far in one direction”. So while the 4th Amendment has “served the country well” in the past, the question today is: How does it apply in the digital world?

Mr Sauer, who is also Deputy General Counsel for Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, believes the current challenge to balance the competing interests of public safety and personal privacy must be viewed from three perspectives.

The first is the recognition that governments have a role in protecting public safety and must be allowed to do their job. The second is the protection of individual freedoms, including a person’s right to feel secure about his or her online data. The third is the maintenance of the public’s trust in technology; the assurance that companies such as Microsoft will protect users against cybercrimes and against the state’s law enforcement interests.

The Role of Tech Companies

Drawing from his experience at Microsoft, Mr Sauer outlined some key areas in which technological companies can work to fight cybercrime and bridge the growing gap of distrust between the state and the public. Besides setting up a Cybercrime Centre in its headquarters to identify and shut down criminal activities online, Microsoft has expanded its encryption services as well as enhanced its software programming codes to allow for greater transparency. It has also reinforced its legal protection for customer data. The company, for example, is now fighting against a US state order to release data of its overseas users, said Mr Sauer.

Since the Snowden incident, he added, Microsoft has “hardened our systems and networks” to assure customers that their data will be protected.

Is Privacy Still Relevant?

Given today’s ubiquitous digital landscape, do people still care about privacy? To answer this question, Mr Sauer compared two social media platforms: MySpace and Facebook. Since 2007, the adoption rate for Facebook has outpaced that for MySpace exponentially; he believes this is because unlike MySpace, Facebook has built-in privacy controls that allow only certain people within a user’s network to view his or her content. “Consumers do in fact want to share more personal information, that much is clear,” said Mr Sauer. “But, they want to decide who they share the information with, and they want to determine how that information will be used.”

Mr Sauer also pointed to the increasing number of countries, including Singapore, that are enacting privacy laws regarding online data. As technology improves, and as data centres proliferate globally, constructive dialogue between governments and the public will be more critical than ever.

On 25 August 2014, Mr Richard Sauer, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Corporation, gave a talk titled “Privacy and Security in the Age of Cybercrime” at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. An expert in legal affairs in the technology sector, Mr Sauer is also the Deputy General Counsel for Legal and Corporate Affairs’ Worldwide Sales Group at Microsoft, and is responsible for all legal, government, and community activities undertaken by the company outside the United States. His portfolio includes developing global enforcement strategies to address Internet safety and cybercrime attacks, among other online activities. Prior to his current assignment, Mr Sauer worked in a number of senior roles within Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA) department. From 2004 to 2009, he was based in Singapore and served as LCA’s Regional Director supporting Microsoft’s business in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and India.



Mobile and cloud computing have brought the benefits of technology everywhere: at home, at work, and at play.  The benefits of technology can be seen in improved communication, collaboration, productivity, transparency and entrepreneurship.  But in the aftermath of the “Snowden revelations,” issues of privacy, trust, and security have risen to the fore of national and international debates.   How do we protect personal liberty and national security, while also preserving necessary openness, in the digital age?  How can we modify laws and regulations to give individuals and groups the confidence to use modern technologies such as cloud computing, with the knowledge that their data will be kept private and protected?  At the same time, how far should the legitimate reach of government go in order to observe the law and preserve national security and sovereignty?

Microsoft has long invested in technologies to support a networked world, where communication, innovation, jobs, and skills development flourish.  At the same time, the company has strongly committed to trustworthy computing, including protecting customers’ data, observing the rule of law, and balancing privacy and competing interests. What key lessons have we learned in our own interactions with the U.S. and other governments?  What are we doing as a company to maintain trust in the digital economy and enhance the best that technology has to offer now and in the future?


Mr Rich Sauer, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Worldwide Sales Group

Monday, 25 August 2014
5:15 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-1,
Manasseh Meyer,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

Seats are limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Kindly register your interest in attending online.

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