Bold Decision: Microsoft Sues United States Government over Secret Data Requests

Source: Amando Flavio

The American technology company Microsoft Corporation, has sued the American government for the right to notify its customers when a government agency is secretly requesting information about them.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday April 14 in a federal court in Seattle. According to the lawsuit, the government is violating the American Constitution by preventing Microsoft from notifying thousands of its customers about government requests for their emails and other documents.

The company believed the government’s actions contravene the Fourth Amendment, which establishes the right for people and businesses to know if the government searches or seizes their property. Microsoft also said the government is violating its First Amendment rights to free speech.

s 1

Reuters quoted a Justice Department spokeswoman, Emily Pierce as saying that the department is reviewing the lawsuit against the government.

Microsoft claimed that the government is using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), as a pretext to direct investigations at its customers who store their data in the cloud system. The cloud system is a computing platform and infrastructure created by Microsoft for building, deploying, and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters.

The company said in the lawsuit, that customers do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud, adding that the government has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.

Microsoft revealed that over the past 18 months, it has received 5,624 legal orders under the ECPA, of which 2,576 prevented Microsoft from disclosing that the government is seeking customer data through warrants, subpoenas and other requests. Most of the ECPA requests apply to individuals, not companies, and provide no fixed end date to the secrecy provision.

Cyber privacy advocates have said in the past that the ECPA has become outdated, because it was written before the commercialization of the Internet. The ECPA was enacted by Congress in 1986 to extend government restrictions on wire taps from telephone calls to include transmissions of electronic data by computer.

s 4

This lawsuit by Microsoft has renewed the battle between technology companies and the American government, debating over how much private businesses should assist government surveillance. The government and Apple recently engaged in legal battle over an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the December 2015 massacre in San Bernardino, California.

The technology companies complained bitterly about the government actions towards Apple. They warned that cooperating in the manner that the government wants them to, will place their businesses into the hands of the government.

Since the former employee of the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, revealed to the public in 2013 that the government routinely conducted extensive phone and Internet surveillance, the technology companies have come under pressure from the public to show that they are helping protect consumer privacy.

According to Reuters, Microsoft is fighting the American government in a separate case, where the government is demanding that the company turn over data held on a server in Ireland. The government again is using the ECPA to intimidate Microsoft into giving up the data. But Microsoft has said that the government needs to go through a procedure outlined in a legal-assistance treaty between the United States and Ireland.

Twitter Incorporated is also fighting a separate battle in federal court in Northern California, over public disclosure of government requests for information on users.

s 3

Recently, we also reported that the government is secretly negotiating with the popular messaging application, WhatsApp to decrypt its messages. The negotiators are top officials from the White House. They are also considering opening a legal battle to compel WhatsApp to stop encrypting messages, in case the secret negations breakdown between the government and the company.