Microsoft is suing the US government over the right to tell users when federal agencies want access to private data.
In the lawsuit, Microsoft have emphasised that the US constitution states that individuals should be made aware if the government searches or seizes their property. Therefore, they’ve said that by keeping access requests secret, they are going against the constitution.
The tech giant has said they’ve received 5,624 requests for data in the last 18 months, almost half of which have arrived with a court order forcing the company to keep the request secret. ‘People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,’ Microsoft said in the lawsuit, according to the Reuters news agency. ‘[The government] have exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.’
The lawsuit shouldn’t really come as a surprise to the US government. Microsoft is just the latest in a number of big tech companies taking on the government over laws they feel are being abused. ‘We believe that with rare exceptions, consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records,’ Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post. ‘Yet it’s becoming routine for the US government to issue orders that require email providers to keep these types of legal demands secret. We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation.’ Smith did state in his post that he knew in some cases investigations needed to remain secret in order to keep people safe or prevent evidence from being destroyed. However, he added: ‘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.’
The basis of Microsoft’s case centres on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 30-year-old law unpopular among tech companies as it was written long before internet use became widespread. Fortunately though, the Act could soon be amended after a US congressional panel voted through several proposed reforms.