Microsoft sues government over data requests

Microsoft is suing the U.S. government over their right to inform users when their data is being searched or seized by federal authorities.

Over the past 18 months alone, Microsoft claims that it has received 5,624 requests for user data and about half of those were accompanied by a court order preventing Microsoft from informing its costumers of the search.

Microsoft is arguing that the government’s actions are contravening the Fourth Amendment which protects the right to privacy and bars unlawful searches and seizures. Furthermore, they are arguing that the court preventing them from informing users of the searches deprives Microsoft of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” Microsoft says in the lawsuit. It adds that the government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.”

This latest court battle in one of a series where tech companies have gone up against the federal government over privacy issues.

From January until March of this year, Apple was fighting the FBI in court over the government’s demands that the tech company help them break into a terrorists iPhone, something that Apple claimed would violate the privacy rights for their users and open a Pandora’s Box that would not close.

Microsoft claims that it stood with Apple during that case and hopes for the same support in their fight now.

“Just as Apple was the company in the last case and we stood with Apple, we expect other tech companies to stand with us,” Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said.

At the time however, Microsoft founder Bill Gates actually sided with the government in that privacy case.

“This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” Gates told the Financial Times, disagreeing with Apple CEO Tim Cook that the FBI’s request would create an iPhone backdoor. “It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said, ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.'”

He went on to say however, that he hoped there would be a debate on the issue of government access to digital data.

“I hope that we have that debate so that the safeguards are built and so people do not opt — and this will be country by country —” [to say] it is better that the government does not have access to any information,” he continued.

 

[Reuters] [The Financial Times] [Photo courtesy of norebbo.com]