Microsoft Sues Justice Department Over Spying

Microsoft Sues Justice Department Over Spying

lawsuitbuttonOn April 14th, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in the Federal District Court in Seattle.  The lawsuit alleges that federal law enforcement agencies have used an unconstitutional interpretation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 in order to access to thousands of Microsoft customers’ data that is stored in the cloud (primarily email such as Office 365 and Hotmail).  Microsoft claims that because this spying is so widespread, and because many of the orders also demand that the spying be kept secret, and have no end date (either for the spying or the secrecy), this violates the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unlawful search and seizures. Microsoft also claims that their First Amendment right to inform customers they are being spied on is also being violated.

“From September 2014 to March 2016, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands in the United States for customer information or data. Nearly half — 2,576 — were accompanied by secrecy orders.”

Often, gag orders prevent companies from reporting government spying on their customers.  However, some companies use what is referred to as a “warrant canary” — which is a statement somewhere on their website/service that they have never been subject to any warrants/spying.  The idea is that when the government begins spying, the company can remove the canary notice from their site, so that users can realize the notice is gone and become aware that spying may have occurred, without the company specifically notifying the users in violation of the gag order. You can read more about warrant canaries at https://canarywatch.org/  

You can also read the coverage in the New York Times at  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/technology/microsoft-sues-us-over-orders-barring-it-from-revealing-surveillance.html?_r=0

 

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