Monday, 10 December, 2018

Microsoft Declares Victory in Fight to Tell Users About Government Email Searches

Microsoft US government Microsoft govt lawsuit data request rules Microsoft April 2016 lawsuit Department of Justice US constitution violation US constitution Fourth Amendment Electronic Communications Privacy Act US Supreme Court Microsoft comp Microsoft dropping gag-order lawsuit after US changes secrecy policy on email searches
Doris Mccormick | 24 October, 2017, 18:26

Microsoft argued in court that too many data requests carry secrecy provisions, often of indefinite duration, that violate the company's free-speech rights.

Smith said the move was "an unequivocal win for our customers" and praised the DoJ for changing its policy, but said it wasn't done with its efforts to reform secrecy orders. The decision to implement the new policy is a result of a lawsuit filed by Microsoft against the DoJ in April 2016.

Until today, vague legal standards have allowed the government to get indefinite secrecy orders routinely, regardless of whether they were even based on the specifics of the investigation at hand.

Now Microsoft is winding down its case because the government is ending its routine use of these gag orders.

The dispute centered on the application of the Stored Communications Act, part of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law that predates the advent of the World Wide Web. In other words, it couldn't tell thousands of customers the United States government had requested and received access to their data. In its lawsuit, Microsoft brought up the fact that the U.S. government legally silenced the company 2,576 times in 18 months, effectively preventing it from speaking with customers about warrants and other legal processes seeking their data.

The Microsoft chief noted, however, that the firm is not done pushing the government to improve the use of the secrecy orders.

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Microsoft is calling for Senate to advance the EPCA Modernization Act of 2017, which was introduced in July by Senators Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy to update privacy laws for electronic communication information served in third-party service providers, as well as geolocation information.

"We believe strongly that these fundamental protections should not disappear just because customers store their personal information in the cloud rather than in file cabinets or desk drawers", Smith wrote.

Smith said the new policy came after months of Microsoft working for change, both in its lawsuit and in public discussions.

The main problem Microsoft had was in how gag orders were being used. We will continue to turn to the courts if needed. "We renew our call on Congress to amend it".

Microsoft goes on to thank the, "nearly 90 technology companies, media enterprises and organizations, academics, business groups and companies, civil liberties groups and former law-enforcement officials who signed friend-of-the-court briefs in this case". For internet users whose data is sought, the government shouldn't delay notifying them for more than a year, except "barring exceptional circumstances", according to the memo.

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