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Microsoft Allies Fight US Gagging Orders-An Issue of Fundamental Rights to Know

Microsoft in its latest lawsuit, the fourth public case that the company filed against the United States Department of Justice (DoJ), relate to customers’ right to privacy and transparency and to promote free expression.

In the lawsuit filed in April, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Microsoft aims to strike down the U.S. government seeking users data, and preventing companies from disclosing customers.

The company notes, that consumers and businesses have every right to know when government accesses their emails or records—except some rare exceptions. “Yet it’s becoming routine for the U.S. government to issue orders that require email providers to keep these types of legal demands secret,” writes Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer Microsoft.

According to Redmond, over the past 18 months, it has received 5,624 demands for information from the federal government. Out of those, 2,576 came with gag orders effectively silencing Microsoft from speaking to customers about warrants or other legal process seeking their data.

Even surprisingly, 1,752 of those secrecy orders, had no fixed end date. This means company is effectively prohibited forever from telling customers that the government has obtained their data.

“We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation,” Smith added.

The case has received quite a bit of support across the country with lobbying group included Apple, Google, Amazon, Mozilla, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many others—filed legal briefs on Friday in support of Microsoft Corp lawsuit.

The Justice Department argues that Microsoft has no standing to bring the case and the public has a “compelling interest in keeping criminal investigations confidential.” Procedural safeguards also protect constitutional rights, it contends.

Microsoft says the government is violating the Fourth Amendment, in addition to Microsoft’s First Amendment right to free speech. Here’s the fourth amendment word-for-word below:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Legal experts at EFF also put the wait behind Microsoft says the US government should respect the constitution:

“Whether the government has a warrant to rifle through our email, safety deposit boxes, or emails stored in the cloud, it must notify people about the searches. When electronic searches are done in secret, we lose our right to challenge the legality of the law enforcement invasions of privacy. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t allow that, and it’s time for the government to set up and respect the Constitution.”

Mozilla another baker also recently received a gag order said:

“And transparency – of more appropriately the lack thereof – is why we care about this case. When requesting user data, these gag orders are sometimes issued without the government demonstrating why the gag order is necessary. Worse yet, the government often issues indefinite orders that prevent companies from notifying users even years later, long after everyone would agree the gag order is no longer needed. These actions needlessly sacrifice transparency without justification. That’s foolish and unacceptable.”

In the suit, which focuses on the storage of data on remote servers that are often referred to as “cloud” computers.

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