Microsoft Corporation has filed a suit against the U.S. government over the right to inform customers when a federal agency is searching through their emails.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) most commonly known as the Wiretap Act, was enacted to prevent the government from accessing private electronic communications without authorization. The protection offered to private citizens under this amendment has become ambiguous due to today’s technological complexities. The federal government can circumvent violation of this act by accessing data stored on remote servers and “cloud storage.”
This is where Microsoft has an issue.
“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” Microsoft says in the lawsuit. They went on to say that the government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.”
Microsoft has accused the government of violating the Constitutional rights of individuals. The U.S. Constitution states that individuals should be made aware if the government searches or seizes their property. They state that 5,624 requests for information were made in the past 18 months alone. Of that number, nearly half of the request came with a court order demanding Microsoft’s silence.
“One of the most basic promises of our Constitution is that the government must notify you when it infringes your rights. For years, the government has skirted that obligation by seeking our sensitive data from tech companies without providing notice,” said Alex Abdo, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
There is an exception to the fourth amendment that law enforcement agencies have exploited. It’s called the “third-party doctrine.” This essentially states that individual privacy cannot be expected when information is voluntarily given to a third party. Internet service providers (ISPs) and email servers fall in this category.
The “third-party doctrine” does not, however, apply to electronic data stored for safe keeping online.
Microsoft Corporation filed its suit against the US Department of Justice claiming the US government has violated their first amendment right to speak to their own customers. It is their position, that by prohibiting them—indefinitely—from informing customers about these searches, their rights have been violated.