Microsoft sues the US, says it exploits cloud for secrecy orders

Microsoft is suing the US Department of Justice, claiming it is unconstitutional to use secrecy orders that prevent it from telling customers when the government accesses their data.

In the suit, filed on Thursday, Microsoft challenges a section under the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which permits the government to request secrecy when searching and seizing property.

The act, introduced 30 years ago, is poorly suited to today's world where information is increasingly stored remotely from a person's premises, Microsoft contends.

Microsoft says that lengthy and permanent secrecy orders violate the Fourth Amendment right to know if the government is searching a person or business’ property. It also violates Microsoft’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The company has received 5,624 government requests for access to customer data in the past 18 months of which 2,576 came with a gag order. Nearly two thirds of the gag orders required Microsoft’s permanent silence.

Microsoft said the government routinely asks for secrecy orders rather than sparing them for when there is a real risk to an individual and that the government is exploiting the transition of private information from paper and home computers to the cloud.

“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,” Microsoft said in the filing.

“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” it added.

The suit is Microsoft’s latest challenge to the 30 year-old ECPA, which has been spearhead by its chief legal officer Brad Smith. As Smith pointed out at a recent hearing, when the act was introduced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was two years old and IBM still made the best PCs.

Microsoft has a lot riding on business and consumer trust in the cloud. The company has moved core products like Office to the cloud and is enticing enterprise customers to move their IT infrastructure to Azure, which could be threatened by the secrecy orders.

In a blog post today, Smith said businesses are concerned about the government secretly accessing data.

“Business customers regularly convey to us their strong desire to know when the government is obtaining their data,” said Smith. “And not surprisingly, they want the opportunity for their own lawyers to review the situation and help decide whether to turn over information or contest the issue in court.”

High Consequence Cyber Crime: The Crime of the Century

Organised criminals : Harness the power of analytics to detect breaches early and minimize their exposure.

Download NOW

Read more: Ping Identity's new Australian data centre anchors user, IoT identity overhaul

Participate in this short survey on IT security strategies across the Australian market and go in the draw to WIN a 360Fly camera vailued at $689.

Start survey NOW

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)congressIBMMicrosoftCloudUS Department of Justicemark zuckerbergCSO AustraliaFacebook

More about Department of JusticeFacebookMicrosoftUS Department of Justice

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Liam Tung

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts