Today, Microsoft Corporation has filed suit in Seattle federal court arguing that United States officials are in violation of the Constitution in preventing the Redmond computer giant from notifying customers of government requests for examination of said customer emails. Microsoft’s assertion is that the government gag order is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right of citizens and businesses to be notified when the government searches or seizes their personal property.
At issue is the server-stored (cloud) information of thousands of customers. According to Microsoft, U.S. officials are using the fact that the data is in the cloud, rather than on a personal computer, as a loophole to circumvent legal procedures for acquiring data. Government agencies are increasingly using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to target parties that store data in the cloud. The law has long been a sore point among technology and privacy advocates, particularly since it was incepted prior to the Internet in commercial use.
Microsoft states in the lawsuit, “People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud.” And adds that the government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.”
This is just the latest in the ongoing battle between the U.S. government and technology companies over the rights of citizens and companies versus the government’s need for private data in open investigations. Two years ago, the Redmond based corporation won the right to disclose the number of government requests for data. Now, Microsoft wants to be allowed to notify private citizens and businesses that the government is asking for information about them.
Congress is continuing to move on this type of legislation as, just yesterday, a congressional panel made changes to reforms of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) removing a requirement of the government to notify a targeted user that their communications were being sought. At this time, there is no word on if said legislative changes would be moving on the the Senate.
This, of course, will continue to be an ongoing story, probably ad nauseum. I applaud Microsoft for making efforts to make a stronger stand.
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