At Heart of Microsoft Lawsuit: 2,576 Gag Orders

Company wants to tell customers when feds are snooping
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2016 6:28 AM CDT
At Heart of Microsoft Lawsuit: 2,576 Gag Orders
The Microsoft logo in Issy- les-Moulineaux, outside Paris.   (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

Microsoft sued the Justice Department Thursday in a case that will test broad principles of privacy in the digital age. But the root of the complaint is far more specific: Microsoft says the feds have demanded access to customer data 5,624 times in the past 18 months— and 2,576 of those demands came with gag orders that prevented the company from letting people know the US was snooping, reports TechCrunch. The government says it can do so under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, but Microsoft argues that the law, written more than 30 years ago, is outdated and, worse, unconstitutional. The government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations," says Microsoft. What's more, 1,752 of the demands were open-ended, meaning the government can keep spying on someone for as long as it wants.

Some coverage:

  • The suit "raises a fundamental question of how easily, and secretly, the government should be able to gain access to individuals’ information in the cloud-computing era," observes the Wall Street Journal.
  • The key point of the case is that it "focuses on the storage of data on remote servers, rather than locally on people's computers, which Microsoft says has provided a new opening for the government to access electronic data," reports Reuters.
  • Engadget notes the business angle: "Sure, Microsoft's lawsuit aims to protect civil liberties, but the company says it also wants to ensure it can continue to sell products that its customers can trust."
  • The New York Times points out the broad scope: The suit, "unlike Apple’s fight with the Federal Bureau of Investigation over access to a locked iPhone, is not attached to a single case. Instead, it is intended to challenge the legal process regarding secrecy orders."
(More Microsoft stories.)

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