Microsoft files lawsuit against government to stop “forever” secrecy orders

From the Microsoft Blog:

We believe that with rare exceptions consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records. 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. We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation.

To be clear, we appreciate that there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed. This is the case, for example, when disclosure of the government’s warrant would create a real risk of harm to another individual or when disclosure would allow people to destroy evidence and thwart an investigation. But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.

Beyond the issue of the incredible number of secrecy orders is the volume of them that have no fixed end date:

Over the past 18 months, the U.S. government has required that we maintain secrecy regarding 2,576 legal demands, effectively silencing Microsoft from speaking to customers about warrants or other legal process seeking their data. Notably and even surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68 percent of the total, contained no fixed end date at all. This means that we effectively are prohibited forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data.

Forever is a long time. Brave of Apple to stand up for privacy. Brave of Microsoft to stand up to government overreach. Both equally important, equally chilling issues.

  • Caleb Hightower

    How many years did it take for Microsoft to finally find it’s ‘spine’ on this issue.

    I wonder if Apple hadn’t made a stand against the FBI, would Microsoft sued?

    Apple: showing leaders how to be leaders.

    • Colin Mattson

      “I wonder if Apple hadn’t made a stand against the FBI, would Microsoft have sued?”

      Yes. This is just the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Microsoft and the government about customer privacy, data ownership, and jurisdiction.

      Remember, Microsoft’s cash cows are in the enterprise, not in the consumer space. This stuff is a huge deal to all those lucrative Azure and Exchange enterprise customers.

    • EVula

      And we all know that Microsoft hasn’t had any leadership changes in all those years.

  • Mo

    What a strange decade this has become.

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