Microsoft Goes on Offensive Against Justice Department

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 1.41.55 PMFriday, April 15, 2016

Sometimes, you have to go on the offensive. That appears to be the thinking behind a lawsuit filed by Microsoft on Thursday against the Justice Department, arguing that the government is wrongly preventing the software giant from letting customers know when investigators armed with a court order have obtained customer data.

Law enforcement, of course, has long had the ability to get a court order requiring someone to provide access to information, whether it’s a filing cabinet or a computer hard drive. Usually, it wasn’t too difficult for the target of the investigation to find out what was taken.

But cloud computing has changed that equation. When customer information is stored in a giant data center run by companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft, investigators can go straight to the information they need, even getting a judge to order the company to keep quiet about it.

There are plenty of reasons for this secrecy. Law enforcement often does not want to tip off a target, or someone’s life could be put at risk if certain information is revealed.

Microsoft argues, however, that law enforcement is overdoing it with its gag orders and unfairly depriving the company of its right to be transparent with its customers.

The case could wind its way through the courts for years. So maybe a decade from now we’ll find out who was on the right side of the law.

Bradford L. Smith, president and chief legal officer for Microsoft, says people “should not lose their rights just because they are storing their information in the cloud.”

Microsoft Sues Justice Department to Protest Electronic Gag Order Statute


The company is challenging the use of secrecy orders that prevent it from telling people when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails.