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Microsoft CEO Nadella Calls For US Government NSA Surveillance Reform

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told HP Discover attendees that U.S. NSA surveillance reform is necessary for global companies to thrive in the future.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Wednesday said U.S. government National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance "reform" is necessary for global companies like Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard to thrive in the future.

"The United States has to take a real approach where we regain that trust," said Nadella, appearing via satellite in a candid wide-ranging discussion with HP CEO Meg Whitman and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich hosted by New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman at the HP Discover conference in Las Vegas. "If you think about HP, Intel and Microsoft, we are global companies and in order for us to be able to thrive in a global world we need our government to be able to have a policy that in fact creates great trust with its own citizens, but also citizens of the world and other nations."

[Related: China Accuses Cisco Of Working 'Intimately' With U.S. Gov On Cyberspying ]

Nadella’s comments on government surveillance reform received a round of applause from thousands of HP Discover attendees.

When asked if he feels Microsoft can look its global customers in the eye and assure them they can trust their data will not be subject to U.S. surveillance, Nadella said there must be some "modicum of law" with regard to how the U.S. government can engage in data discovery and have jurisdiction over data, including data that does not reside in the U.S.


"These are hard challenges and problems that we now need to bring some amount of stability to," said Nadella. "They can't be unknowns because that is what creates the trust issue. Right now I would say it is a cause of friction. All you have got to do is go outside the United States and talk to customers. It is top-of-mind for them. We have to be able to solve that."


Nadella’s comments come only one month after Cisco CEO John Chambers sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a new set of rules of the road regarding NSA government surveillance.


Chambers' plea to the president came after the book No Place To Hide by Glenn Greenwald documented that the NSA had intercepted Cisco networking gear to install backdoors for surveillance purposes. "We ship our products from locations inside, as well as outside the United States, and if these allegations are true, these actions will undermine confidence in our industry and in the ability of technology companies to deliver products globally," Chambers wrote.


Krzanich, for his part, said the U.S. government should engage in a global discussion to set new surveillance ground rules and guidelines. "We have a huge opportunity here," he said. "We can change this from a risk to an opportunity if we act quickly and in the right way.


’Rather than pointing fingers or saying it is part of a process that occurs, we have a chance I think to lead here, and as a result our government and our industry would be seen around the world as truly being a leader and truly being open and transparent," said Krzanich.


NEXT:HP's Whitman Says Tech Industry Must Weigh In On Government Surveillance


Whitman, a one time candidate for governor of California, said it is critical that the technology industry weigh in on issues like government surveillance and jurisdiction of data.


"We have to tell our story because if we don't, someone else will tell it for us and we will be set back years and years and years," she said. "This is going to be interesting because most of the elected officials I have met want to know about technology, they are hungry to know, but they can't almost envision what it is we are talking about."


A big problem is the technology industry is moving faster than the legal system, said Whitman. "I think there is a tremendous responsibility as we create things that did not exist before," she said. "We simply are going to have to spend the time to bring along society. The technology will be ahead of what society in many ways will be able to embrace."


Whitman also made an impassioned plea for immigration reform and lifting the cap on H1-B visas in order to bring more technical talent to the U.S. from overseas. "This goes beyond our industry," she said. "It goes to the very economic vibrancy of the United States of America."


Whitman compared the mad dash to get ahold of the small number of H1-B visas available to trying to get tickets to a Madonna concert. "You have got to be in line, you have got to have the right people in the right place to get your fair share," she said. "And by the way, estimates are [that] in Silicon Valley we could use three or four times as many as we are allocated."


Whitman called for broad-based movement to press hard for H1-B visas reform in Washington. "This is not just about the technology companies that you think about," she said. "Every company is a technology company. Caterpillar Tractor is a technology company. Every bank is a technology company. If we are going to capture this next [technology] revolution, which I think is as big as we have seen in our lifetime, we are not going to do this without an enlightened immigration policy."


Whitman's plea for H1-B reform and education reform to make America more competitive received a thunderous round of applause from Discover attendees.

Krzanich, for his part, said H1-B policy should be a pragmatic issue for the U.S. "These people we are trying to hire are smart; they are going to go invent somewhere. Why not have them inventing for American companies for products made in America or generating revenue in America?’ he said. "I think at some point you have to take a pragmatic view. These are smart people we are trying to hire. They are going to go do [innovative] things. And we would rather have them do it here."


Proclaiming himself a a beneficiary of past U.S. immigration policies, Nadella, a native of Hyderabad, India, also urged H1-B reform as part of what he called "enlightened" immigration and education policies. These reforms, he said, are the "true things that are going to keep America competitive. We also want to make sure American industry is competitive by making sure that trust is regained."


Kelly Ireland, CEO of CB Technologies, a Westminster, Calif.-based Platinum HP Enterprise partner attending Discover, said she is working with state customers to tap into technology to improve U.S. education to make America more competitive in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

"We are working with state education to implement a change in the way students are educated," she said.

PUBLISHED JUNE 11, 2014

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