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Microsoft Sues Justice Department Over Secret Customer Data Searches
SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. sued the Justice Department on Thursday, saying it's unconstitutional for the government to bar tech companies from telling customers when federal agents have examined their data. The suit, filed in the federal court here, raises a fundamental question of how easily, and secretly, the government should be able to gain access to individuals' information in the cloud-computing era.
Critics argue that a person would know if their home or hard drive were searched by investigators, but agents now have the ability - and are using it in thousands of cases - to keep secret their searches of information stored in the massive data centers that power cloud computing.
Microsoft's filing sets the stage for another high-profile confrontation between the government and a tech giant, after the Justice Department's February demand that Apple Inc. bypass the security passcode on a terrorist's iPhone. The agency dropped that effort last month after it cracked the phone with help from a third party, but the legal fight over other locked iPhones continues.
Microsoft says in its suit that it received 5,624 federal demands for customer information in the past 18 months, and nearly half - 2,576 - came with gag orders preventing the company from telling customers the government was looking at their data. Although the company "always complies with legally binding orders", it said that 1,752 of those secrecy orders had no time limit, so it might never be able to tell customers that the government obtained their digital files.
The government "seeks and executes warrants for electronic communications far more frequently than it sought and executed warrants for physical documents and communications - apparently because it believes it can search and seize those documents and communications under a veil of secrecy", the suit alleges. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
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