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Microsoft sues over the right to inform customers of U.S. gov’t spying

microsoft sues us government gag orders 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Microsoft is suing the U.S. government for the right to inform its customers when the authorities are searching their emails. The lawsuit pertains to the U.S. government accessing remote data in the cloud, stored on Microsoft’s servers.

The suit was filed yesterday in Washington against the Justice Department over what Microsoft calls “unconstitutional” gags that prevent the company from informing customers that they are possibly being snooped on.

“Microsoft brings this case because its 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,” it said in the lawsuit. The Department of Justice has not yet commented on the legal action.

“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” said Microsoft, according to Reuters. The company criticizes how the authorities have been using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to issues warrant on data stored in the cloud. The legal papers go on to accuse the government of exploiting the adoption of cloud storage to expand its power to conduct secret investigations.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Image used with permission by copyright holder

The company adds that over the last 18 months, it has received 5,624 orders under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and 2,576 of those orders prevent Microsoft from talking about them. According to the lawsuit, most of these do not have any expiration date on the gag. Two years ago, tech companies won the legal right to make public the number of legal requests they receive. This lawsuit now demands that Microsoft be given the right to inform customers directly that a request has been made about them.

Microsoft is no stranger to tussles with the U.S. government over access to its servers. It’s currently embroiled in a legal battle with authorities over the latter’s search warrant for emails stored on a server in Ireland. The company claims that U.S. is overstepping its bounds by issuing warrants on data that isn’t even within the U.S.

Microsoft has even begun building more and more data centers outside of the U.S. by expanding its facilities in Ireland, as well as breaking ground on new data centers in the U.K. and Canada.

As a result of this lawsuit, Microsoft joins a growing level of discontent in the tech sector with the U.S. government, as we’ve seen lately with Apple and the FBI.

Jonathan Keane
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jonathan is a freelance technology journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. He's previously written for publications and sites…
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