Microsoft Takes On Feds’|Electronic ‘Gag Order’


     SEATTLE (CN) – Microsoft sued the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming it is unconstitutional to bar tech companies from telling customers when the government reads their emails and other data.
     The tech giant seeks an order in Federal Court declaring that part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is unconstitutional.
     The controversy of government surveillance of user data from tech companies has heated up in recent years, with many electronic privacy advocates saying that technology is far outpacing the law.
     Following the deadly terror attack in San Bernardino last year, Apple refused to allow the government to unlock the shooters’ iPhones, saying doing so would “set a dangerous precedent.”
     Microsoft appears to be taking a similar stance with its lawsuit, this time against the government’s “gag orders” against tech companies informing their customers when agents request information.
     “People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” the complaint says.
     Likening the storage of information in a cloud to “file cabinets and desk drawers” in the pre-computer era, Microsoft says that the government has to give notice when it seeks private information as it did in the old dayss.
     “The transition to the cloud does not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must — with few exceptions — give notice when it searches and seizes the private information or communications of individuals or businesses,” the complaint says.
     Microsoft says in the past year and a half, there have been almost 2,600 secrecy orders filed in federal courts that “silence” the company from talking about warrants and other legal procedures involving its customers’ data.
     “These twin developments — the increase in government demands for online data and the simultaneous increase in secrecy — have combined to undermine confidence in the privacy of the cloud and have impaired Microsoft’s right to be transparent with its customers, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment,” the complaint says.
     Microsoft seeks a court order invalidating the “gag order” part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act as unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments.
     The company is represented by Stephen Rummage and Ambika Doran of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
     The Justice Department did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment.

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