Microsoft Suing Government for Secret Searches
- By Sydny Shepard
- Apr 15, 2016
Microsoft is taking a stand against the U.S. Department of Justice. On April 14, the company filed a lawsuit against the DOJ stating they were not comfortable with the way that federal agents routinely search customers’ personal information in secret.
Microsoft has accused the federal government of adopting a “widespread, unconstitutional policy” of looking through personal data on Microsoft’s network and forcing the company to be quiet about it.
The company explained that over the past 18 months, federal judges have approved 2,600 secret searches of Microsoft customers and in two-thirds of those cases, the company was told they could not notify their customers that they’ve been searched for. This clause usually last forever because there is no expiration data on the judicial orders. The company cannot even go back and tell a customer, “In 2014, the federal government used our resources to check up on you.”
The lawsuit states that Microsoft believes their customers have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails, and because Microsoft has a right to tell them.
The issue with this case is the double standard that comes along with the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Normally, a person must be told when police obtain warrant to search a home, but nowadays, people keep lots of emails, notes, contact lists, and pictures on computer servers at Microsoft and elsewhere. Under the 1986 law, police can get special permission to search those computers and keep the company from informing the customer when law enforcement has conducted the secret search.
The federal agents, however, argue that the secrecy of the search is what helps them in their investigation. Microsoft counted with the argument that they still aren’t able to inform a customer even long after the investigation is over.
Despite the fact the lawsuit comes as the encryption battle between the FBI and Apple finds a resting spot, it show that data privacy is still a large part of the conversation between tech companies and the government.
Sydny Shepard is the Executive Editor of Campus Security & Life Safety.