Microsoft Sues the US Government for an Exploitation of the Gag Orders

There was a time when offices were imagined as a desk overflowing with papers and documents that contained public and private information about the company. Every single piece of data was filed and kept in cabinets which were considered to be the place you could find everything you needed to know about the company. Thankfully, things evolved and technology very conveniently helped us achieve the clean-desk policy which meant no more papers lying around the office giving people the chance to sneak in to the company’s details. I am talking about cloud storage which has completely changed the way we handle data today.

Quite interestingly, this form of storing data may be prone to a level of prying too. While we have a lot of hackers around who can spell nuisance for the companies if they were able to reach such massive stores of data, what was not expected was that the government may be trying to sneak into such information as well. Microsoft recently filed a lawsuit in a federal court against the US government because of the exceeding number of gag orders that it has been getting for data requests.

Microsoft explained that over half the data requests made by the government are meant to be secretive and approximately two-thirds of the gag orders do not have an expiration date or a time limit to them. As a result, Microsoft will never be able to notify its users about the data requests.

Now before I proceed into its repercussions, let me quickly explain that a gag order or a gagging order is a directive to forbid the company from publicly disclosing information on a particular matter.

Microsoft finds these gag orders to be in breach of the First and Fourth Amendment. While the First Amendment guarantees the company the right to communicate to its users, the Fourth Amendment gives people the right to be informed when the government searches or seizes their property.

Data Storage and Privacy

All those cabinets where data was filed provided a certain level of security to the companies because when the government required data it had to request the company for it. The same was done when information was done on the computers locally. However, with the introduction of cloud storage, the accessibility of data became easier not only for the users but for the government as well.

Microsoft’s viewpoint for filing the lawsuit is that users expect the same or a higher level of privacy with technology introducing cloud storage. In fact, many companies that use Microsoft’s data storage services are very specific about being notified if a government request is made for accessing some data. The companies can consult their lawyers before deciding on such factors.

The fact that the data belongs to the companies and not to Microsoft, is one of the reasons why the lawsuit has been filed. The tech giant believes that it should be able to disclose information regarding the government requests to its clients so that they are notified before any data changes hands.

Microsoft’s Privacy and Security Endeavors Regarding Secretive Data Requests

Microsoft does not find a lot of sound reasoning in the numerous gag orders that it has been receiving lately from the government. The company has always wanted to keep the privacy and security of their customers in the forefront which is why they have been concerned about the gag orders. The lawsuit aims at redefining the laws that rule the privacy of the customers by restricting the gag orders.

Microsoft expects that if new policies cannot be implemented, then the Congress should take steps to amend the Electronic Communications Protection Act so that a government notice is required for such warrants. And in the event of an amendment, Microsoft hopes to see the following things being implemented in the policy:

  • Transparency – The users must be aware that the company that is storing their data has been asked for data through a legal request and the company themselves should be able to inform the customers when a request like this was served.

 

  • Digital neutrality – Cloud users should have the same amount of privacy or even a higher level of privacy online than what they had when they stored their data offline.

 

  • Necessity – Microsoft suggests that secrecy orders should be resorted to only in critical investigations where the reason to continue to the secrecy is higher than the reasons to make it public.

 

With these in mind, Microsoft is gearing up for better policies as it stands up for the privacy of its customers. While we hope the same, we can only wait and watch to see how this lawsuit progresses in the federal court.

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