back to article 'We need a new Geneva Convention to protect all citizens from snoops'

In 1949, the world’s nations came together to sign the Geneva Conventions, according respect in times of war to civilians, soldiers incapable of fighting, and prisoners of war. Now we need to go back and do the same for civilians caught up in online conflict, according to Microsoft. In a keynote at this year's RSA USA …

  1. Vimes

    You need only look as far as Caspar Bowden and how he was treated by Microsoft to know how they really feel about privacy. It would be interesting to hear what - if anything - Brad Smith has to say about it.

    They only started caring when they were given no other choice but to do so.

    In 2002, Caspar left FIPR and joined Microsoft, where he became chief privacy adviser for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Microsoft was originally keen on privacy, and Caspar got the company to sponsor privacy research in various ways. But the company’s direction changed as cloud services became important and as the Bush surveillance laws gave the agencies access to cloud data. In 2011 Caspar left. As he told the story, he was responsible for briefing Microsoft’s government sales managers in 40 countries about privacy, and told them that if they sold Microsoft cloud services to non-US governments, the US Fisa court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveilliance court) would give the FBI, NSA and CIA unfettered access to everything. For this, he was fired.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "They only started caring when they were given no other choice but to do so."

      AFAICS Microsoft policy will swing in whatever direction seems best to Microsoft at the time. Currently it's good to see that Brad Smith is standing up for non-users of W10.

    2. Nick Kew

      Any big company will contain diverse views. Microsoft today certainly contains both goodies and baddies. I'd give this speaker the benefit of the doubt, and be happy to see someone in his position taking a stand.

      1. Vimes

        @Nick Kew

        I'm not sure I would be so forgiving, especially when Caspar was so open about his own views on Brad Smith. A quick search on Twitter can be revealing.

    3. tr1ck5t3r

      The fastest way to find out if Microsoft are targetting you on behalf of....

      Try resetting your password with one of the Linux password managers if you are running windows 7 or earlier.

      If you can reset your password and log in, you are not being targetted.

      If you can reset your password and not log in, then you are being targetted.

      Stuxnet doesnt work on Windows 10, but you cant switch off the "Cortana"-is-supervising-you data stream back to Microsoft. Its impossible, if you think you have, its just cached until the next update.

    4. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      How old is that picture?

      Is that an old IBM 5140 in the foreground of that photo of Brad Smith?

      The IBM 5140 was released in 1986.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How old is that picture?

        "The IBM 5140 was released in 1986."

        It's OK, the IRS is still waiting for funding from Congress to purchase a fleet of them for all of their field offices. They've only been waiting 31 years now. Government is slow to adopt new tech, you know.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: How old is that picture?

        In his right hand Smith holds a 3.5" (non-floppy) floppy disc. In his left hand he holds a modern tablet (my guess is, it's not an iPad). I think he wants to illustrate a point he is making; maybe something about the amount of data then and now.

  2. quxinot

    There will be pushback, it won't be legislation.

    It will involve fire. Historically, the class in power needs to relearn this lesson periodically.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I was thinking that, the Geneva Convention came after the second world war. There will need to be some great privacy apocalypse before something is done.

      1. ritey

        the snoopers charter is exactly that

      2. macjules

        No, the "Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field" was invented in 1864. The latest convention was the "Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War" in 1949, following the Nuremberg trials.

  3. Herby

    Wikileaks of its day...

    Look the _New York Times_ still is!

  4. Adam 52 Silver badge

    The sad fact is that things like the Geneva Convention are once in a lifetime events. It takes nearly complete destruction of two successive generations to motivate the government to do the right thing.

    ...and still widely ignored - both by people like ISIS and people like the US military. Not forgetting Israel.

    Sadly human history shows that the despots win much more often than the nice guys. The late 20th century western European viewpoint is very much an minority position.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      @ Adam 52

      "The sad fact is that things like the Geneva Convention are once in a lifetime events. It takes nearly complete destruction of two successive generations to motivate the government to do the right thing."

      One thing I noticed in this was the market pushing back against a bad idea. MS isnt suggesting this from the goodness of their heart but because trust = more money while governments have no motivation beyond control. It would be good if such a push back of the largest corporations occurred to restrain the gov from overstepping and abusing their position.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The monumental challenge here...

    * Is that privacy is frowned upon like virginity by most America citizens, corporations and government officials. Its there to be thrown away / discarded. As long as that's the case, and as long as the big privacy rapers are all American, nothing new can happen.

    * Meanwhile where are all the FOSS options? Where are the European competitors to compete against US corps to focus minds...??? As long as there's no real competition to Facebook / Google / Uber / Microsoft / Snap / Linkedin, then nothing will ever change, ever.

    * Laws are to be laughed by the lawless. Its the Wild Wild West in Surveillance Capitalism country...

  6. a_yank_lurker

    Take a look in a mirror

    Part of the problem is the antics of companies like Slurp and Chocolate Factory. The amount of information they either have or are trying to get makes them a rather obvious target for governments. They are constantly under the thumb of the local FISA court.

    There is an old rule in security: what you never knew you can never tell. They need to learn this and minimize the information they are collecting and retaining.

  7. JoshStern

    Privacy is not the only battle

    Snoops nowadays can do a lot more damage than snooping. For instance, non-lethal (or lethal) Directed Energy Weapons that are remote or software controlled can be installed anywhere. They can be programmed to fire only at a specific person based on LIDAR scanned profiles or something similar. Battery technology and wireless power are both improving at rapid rates. Spooks are not far away from having the capability to harass a specific person from every traffic light if they choose to. I have experienced versions of this, so I'm not speaking only theoretically. These comments from Microsoft are welcomed and very timely.

  8. Christian Berger

    Yes, but wouldn't the US ignore this...

    ...just like the current Geneva Convention?

  9. Grumpy Fellow

    It got better a bit later in the morning

    When Whit Diffie suggested that the best cybersecurity approach might be to write secure code in the first place. He was talking to a room full of cybersecurity tool vendors and he still got a big round of applause!

  10. Potemkine Silver badge

    Lex Talionis

    It would be a good idea... if Geneva convention was efficient to protect people.

    In that matter, only reciprocity works

  11. ritey

    How to share this article with Mrs May?

    Maybe in a few years she will be like one of those wizened old nazi hiding away.

  12. William 3 Bronze badge

    I agree.

    And there first action should be to hold Microsoft up by it's bollocks for it's snooping in Windows 10, that it backported back to Windows 7.

    Then up next The Register, for all its' tracking cookies.

    People in glass houses really shouldn't be slinging stone.

  13. clayusmcret

    Protections from snooping businesses as well

    As much as I dislike snooping by governments, snooping and data mining by businesses and commercial industries is just as dangerous and invasive. If this was seriously being considered, I'd support taking it further and applying privacy restrictions to ALL snooping focused at private citizens, whether done for/with business or government applications.

    1. Oengus

      Re: Protections from snooping businesses as well

      This is where the real issues will be. Governments are bound by the convention, business is not. If you look at the serious snooping today the governments are rank amateurs. The real pros at snooping are Google, Facebook, et al.

  14. Panicnow

    Who is the enemy here?

    In-human rapacious multi-national corporations who's only concern is its survival, or a government elected by you and can be removed by you?

    Imagined conversion - Google exec " Mr President we note from your android phone tracking, that your movements between these dates are identical to someone you don't want the electorate to know you know.... Now about that tax legislation..."

  15. fruitoftheloon


    I would loved to have watched this spiel live!

    How the feck could he spout that with a straight face, it may be admirable, but has less than ZERO chance of ever actually happening..

    I mean if a given government were to agree a £Bn-worth-it amount every year for access to all clients info (and of course make it perfectly legal), would [insert USA corp. name] really say: 'no thanks, we're earning quite enough now thank you very much...'

    Of course, even if they did, us plebs are pretty unlikely to ever know about it.


    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      "How the feck could he spout that with a straight face"

      He's a lawyer. It's a thing they do, especially when pushing a case. He's pushing a case against the USG re email from servers in Dublin

  16. Stevie


    A Geneva Convention?

    Would that be the sort of convention that results in a bunch of reasonable operating practices that everyone and his dog then ignores every time it becomes inconvenient?

  17. SeymourHolz


    Why would warring parties not ignore the Digital Geneva Convention the same way they ignore the 'Analog' version?

  18. Howard Hanek

    We're About To Be Plucked

    OK. But NOT many good things come out of Geneva these days.

  19. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    I will not believe Microsoft as a corporation collectively gives a rat's ass about privacy until Endpoint Antichrist is fired in disgrace, and blackballed from the industry with the most vehement prejudice possible.

  20. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "In 1956, US and UK intelligence agencies recorded a speech given in private by the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev which decried the excesses of Stalin’s regime."

    Only they didn't...

    While not officially released until 1989 under Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev's famous "secret speech", delivered to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party on February 25, 1956 wasn't really that secret (or private).

    There was an official transcript which in March 1956 was sent to all the heads of state in the Eastern bloc, where it circulated amongst the higher echelon. Viktor Grajewski, a journalist working for a news magazine of the Polish government, was friends with one of the secretaries of Edward Ochab, at the time the First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party.

    Grajewski accidentally (?) saw a copy of Khrushchev's speech, borrowed it - and took it to the Israeli embassy in Warsaw. The embassy made a copy and forwarded it to the Shin Bet, which in turn forwarded it to the CIA. From there the speech made its way to Pesident Eisenhower and, eventually, to the NYT which wrote about it on June 4, 1956.

    The Washington Post did an anniversary piece in 2006 about it.

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