Microsoft says it will drop its lawsuit against the US government after the Department of Justice agreed to change the way data like email is obtained in warrants for government agencies. Gag orders have typically been used to keep data providers like Microsoft silent, and not inform customers when their cloud data has been searched or inspected by authorities. Microsoft originally filed its lawsuit last year, arguing that the government’s gag-ordered searches of Microsoft accounts violates the constitutional right to free speech.
“This new policy limits the overused practice of requiring providers to stay silent when the government accesses personal data stored in the cloud,” explains Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer. “It helps ensure that secrecy orders are used only when necessary and for defined periods of time. This is an important step for both privacy and free expression. It is an unequivocal win for our customers, and we’re pleased the DOJ has taken these steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”
The new policy will limit the use of secrecy orders, and set defined periods for them. Microsoft says the new policy will “make sure that every application for a secrecy order is carefully and specifically tailored to the facts in the case.” While Microsoft has convinced the DOJ to change its policy, it’s now putting the pressure on Congress to act. “Today’s policy doesn’t address all of the problems with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA),” says Smith. “We renew our call on Congress to amend it.”
Microsoft is also in the middle of another legal tangle with the US government. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the US government over Microsoft’s legal fight to block authorities from accessing information stored in a company data center in Ireland. Authorities want to access data that’s stored in Ireland, and Microsoft has argued that because the data was stored outside the US, it was subject to Irish rather than US law, regardless of the company providing the infrastructure. A lower court ruled that Microsoft has "no remaining lawful obligation to produce materials to the government,” and the appeal will now be decided by the Supreme Court.