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Microsoft expresses concern over gag orders when feds are snooping on its users

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Microsoft will now be challenging a federal judgment that prevents the tech giant from disclosing a large corporate customer the news of a federal inquiry ordered by the US government on their data. Bound by the “secrecy order,” Microsoft is prohibited from notifying their customers on the search activity performed on their data.

“We have challenged that order in the lower court, and we will pursue an appeal in the appellate court if necessary, and continue to stand up for the principle that our customers are entitled to know when the government obtains their data,” wrote Microsoft’s general counsel Dev Stahkopf in a blog post.

“When a law enforcement agency presents Microsoft with a legally valid warrant, court order or subpoena requesting data that belongs to one of our enterprise customers, we seek to redirect that request to the customer. And in the vast majority of cases, that is exactly what happens. There are times, however, when the government comes to us for data and prevents us from telling our enterprise customers that it is seeking their data. We agree that there are some limited circumstances in which law enforcement must be able to operate in secret to prevent crime and terrorism and keep people safe.  And while we agree that secrecy orders that prevent us from notifying our customers may be appropriate in those limited circumstances, we also believe there are times when those orders go too far.  In those cases, we will litigate to protect our customers’ rights.”

The previously mentioned case has been an ongoing legal battle between the US government and Microsoft with regards to the “sneak and peek” searches performed by the US law enforcement officials. When the US government makes a federal inquiry into someone’s data, service providers are forbidden from informing their customers about such activity on their data.

Back in 2016, Microsoft sued the US government for increasingly rampant “sneak and peek” searches; the Justice Department had then said that it would eventually scale down and decrease the number of secrecy orders.

According to a ruling by a magistrate judge in Brooklyn, it was apparent that the US government sought information with regards to two email accounts including emails, voicemails, and text messages.

It is revealed that the users of the corresponding two accounts and a few others have committed a range of criminal activities such as wire fraud and money laundering; moreover, they are known to be employed by a multinational corporation that has allegedly “conspired” with a similar-sized multinational for contravening US sanctions.

Microsoft is, however, unhappy with the US government’s decision to prevent the company from disclosing the federal inquiry to the two account holders.

“As a cloud services provider, Microsoft has an important role in forcing governments to go before impartial judges to justify their conduct and to make sure they use their investigative powers in accordance with the rule of law,” wrote Stahlkopf.

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