Microsoft has filed a new lawsuit against the US government, asking the court to permit them to alert their users when their online accounts and the data in them has been accessed by the authorities.
“To be clear, we appreciate that there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” explained Microsoft’s Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer Brad Smith.
“But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.”
He noted that in the last 18 months, the company received 2,576 legal demands for access to user information by the US government, and they were required to keep mum about them. 68 percent of those were also open-ended, meaning that Microsoft will be forever prohibited to let those customers know about the data grab.
Microsoft believed that these orders are infringing on their customers’ constitutional rights (the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property) and Microsoft’s right to free speech (i.e. to tell customers about how government action is affecting their data).
“Cloud computing has spurred a profound change in the storage of private information. Today, individuals increasingly keep their emails and documents on remote servers in data centers – in short, in the cloud. But the transition to the cloud does not alter people’s expectations of privacy and should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must – with few exceptions – give notice when it searches and seizes private information or communications,” he pointed out, and said that the same is true for businesses.
He also hopes that this lawsuit will spur the US Department of Justice to decide on a new policy that will set reasonable limitations on the use of these types of secrecy orders. Or, if not them, the US Congress.
Microsoft is still currently battling the US government in court regarding the search warrant asking for access to a non-US citizen’s email stored in Ireland.