The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Tools and Weapons

by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne Book Reviews

Tool and weapons bookAs the world of technology changes at an accelerating pace, policymakers and legal professionals may be at a loss to think about the many emerging and sometimes conflicting trends. Fortunately, Microsoft CEO and Chief Legal Office Brad Smith along with his colleague, Carol Ann Brown, have compiled an accessible, insightful, and much needed guide in Tools and Weapons. It may just be one of the most important books of 2019.

Tools and Weapons is structured as a series of short surveys of the most important issues facing society’s relationship with technology, beginning with surveillance and privacy, moving on to social media and digital diplomacy, and ending with sobering thoughts on the need for more partnerships and understanding among democratic governments, NGOs, and corporations. What makes this analysis stand out is the formation and use of guiding principles for each of these problems, created collaboratively and implemented aggressively. What makes Tools and Weapons interesting is the diverse set of issues Smith has faced, including confrontational meetings with world leaders like President Obama; responding to terrorism’s use of social media in New Zealand; collaborating with rival CEOs; fixing broadband in the rural Northwest; and fighting North Korean hackers. Being the CEO and chief legal officer of one of the most successful companies in the world sometimes reads as being part attorney general and part secretary of state. The pace is fast and enjoyable.

Practitioners may be interested in hearing Mr. Smith’s thoughts on his legal strategy during Microsoft’s fight with anti-trust litigation, his interactions with technology regulators, and his company’s efforts to protect the civil rights of employees and customers. But more broadly, this book uses legal history and historical politics to illustrate with a fresh perspective the issues facing the technology industry and society at large. Online trolls may be this century’s version of wire fraud, a crime deserving of new regulations. Personal but limited ownership of data is convincingly equated to the development of easements on private property for public utilities, which largely worked because of principles like reliability, security, and inclusivity. In Mr. Smith’s telling, the mid-century “revolt against the radio” — when many wondered if radio was ruining an entire generation’s social skills and work ethic — sounds awfully similar to today’s editorials discussing social media.

Mr. Smith convincingly shows that thoughtful and principled leadership is good business, good legal strategy, and good advice for a changing world. A fair criticism of this work is that Microsoft is arguing for new restraint among the technology sector from a dominate market position. But as the title of the book makes clear, new technologies can often be both productive and destructive, depending on their use. When tinkering with the thoughts and actions of the four billion internet users worldwide, caution is warranted.

Christopher S. Emmanuel is a policy director with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in Tallahassee.