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April 15, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 11:25am

Microsoft sues US government over secrect data searches

News: The lawsuit comes at a time when the standoff between the government and tech companies is intensifying.

By CBR Staff Writer

Tech giant Microsoft has filed a lawsuit against the US government, alleging that federal agencies are preventing the company from informing its customers about the requests made to access their e-mails.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the clash between the government and technology industry is intensifying over access to private data.

Microsoft, in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle, alleges that the government is acting against the constitution by concealing the requests made to search the data related to thousands of its customers, Reuters reported.

Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said: "We filed a new lawsuit in federal court against the United States government to stand up for what we believe are our customers’ constitutional and fundamental rights – rights that help protect privacy and promote free expression.

"This is not a decision we made lightly, and hence we wanted to share information on this step and why we are taking it."

"Though cloud computing has changed the way the data storage on remote servers, the transition should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must inform when it searches and seizes private information or communications", Smith said in a blog.

"We believe that with rare exceptions, consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records," Smith said.

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"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," he said.

The government is stepping up its investigations on companies that store data on the cloud platform under the Using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the lawsuit said.

The company said that the government has asked it to maintain secrecy in 2,576 legal demands made to access the customers’ data in the past 18 months under the ECPA. Surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68% of the total, did not have any fixed end date.

Smith said: "We believe these actions violate two of the fundamental rights that have been part of this country since its founding.

"These lengthy and even permanent secrecy orders violate the Fourth Amendment, which gives people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property.

"They also violate the First Amendment, which guarantees our right to talk to customers about how government action is affecting their data."

Technology firms have argued that the act is outdated, as it was drafted 30 years back when the Internet was not extensively for commercial purposes.

Controversy over the government’s access to private data intensifying in recent months after it asked Apple to write a software programme to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in a massacre that happened in San Bernardino in December last year.

However, Apple, supported by other technology majors including Microsoft, argued that assisting the government would lead to too much interference in their businesses.

Microsoft wants the Act to be amended to include rules that allow the companies to disclose about the requests made by the government.

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