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By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft reveals details of requests filed by U.S. government to access customer data
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft has insisted on numerous occasions that it believes that organizations should play an active role in ensuring the privacy of their customers rather than simply relying on state legislature. Now, the company has revealed details of three instances where it fought for its customers' right to know that access to their data has been requested by the U.S. government.
Original gavel image via Brian Turner / Flickr Microsoft believes that its customers need to know when the government has requested access to their emails or other documents. As such, the company has challenged at least three secrecy orders in the past year in favor of its enterprise customers knowing about requests from law enforcement.
The first case was from a federal court in Maryland which prohibited it from informing the customer about an ongoing investigation. Microsoft challenged this decision in December 2019, with the case going in its favor in January 2020. The court documents were unsealed this week and can be viewed here. Although the organization's name has been redacted, the document reveals that while Microsoft initially complied to the government request, it later challenged that the counsel for the company in question needs to know about the order. However, the court strictly emphasized that if information is disclosed to individuals other than the counsel - especially the people being targeted in the investigation -, the whole operation would be jeopardized.
In the second case, there was a similar request from a federal court in New York, which Microsoft challenged in September 2020. The U.S. government agreed to inform the customer in October 2020 and the unsealed email related to this matter can be seen here. Once again, the customer in question has not been explicitly named.
The third case is an ongoing one which Microsoft has been fighting for the past two years. This also comes from another federal court in New York. Recently, the company has received legal support from various organizations and partners such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Associated Press, and The Washington Post, among others. This aid comes in the form of five amicus briefs - which are supporting documents through which the firms will be providing technical assistance and expertise to the court.
Microsoft went on to say that:
It is important to remember that these three cases highlighted by Microsoft are likely only some of the secrecy orders that the company has fought against. There are possibly other requests that the Redmond tech giant is not allowed to disclose as of yet because court orders for those have not yet been unsealed. Regardless, it does give a clear view that Microsoft is committed to ensuring the privacy of its customers and safeguarding their legal rights.
By Ather Fawaz
$1 billion worth of Bitcoins—possibly linked to Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht—are on the move
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Bitcoin Gator Silk Road, one of the most popular deep web marketplaces for drugs and murder-for-hire, was conclusively shut down by the FBI in 2013. The operation led to the arrest of site owners; millions of dollars worth of Bitcoins were seized as well. In subsequent years, the U.S. government auctioned off this wealth on the U.S. Marshals Service website. Years later, in 2020, it seems that the ghost of Silk Road still remains.
According to the blockchain tracker Elliptic, close to $1 billion worth of Bitcoins that possibly originated from Silk Road is on the move (via Bloomberg). Specifically, some 69,369 Bitcoins have been moved out of a wallet that may be linked with the website. And this wallet is associated with an account that is the world’s fourth-richest Bitcoin address, according to BitInfoCharts.
It is unclear whether the 69k Bitcoins are being moved by law enforcement agencies, Silk Road’s owner, or a vendor. But according to Tom Robinson, co-founder of Elliptic, the reason might be rooted in preemptive security measures. Robinson tweeted earlier today that “A copy of the encrypted wallet file is reportedly being circulated—if someone cracked the password they could seize the Bitcoins. The owner of the wallet has perhaps moved the BTC to a new wallet to prevent this.”
Robinson went as far as to speculate that these might belong to Ross Ulbricht, one of the co-founders of Silk Road who is now serving the rest of his life in prison. However, from a realistic standpoint it would be unlikely that Ulbricht would have conducted this move from prison, Robinson clarified in his post.
TikTok shocked at Trump's executive order, threatens legal action
by Paul Hill
In a statement issued by TikTok, the firm has said it’s shocked that the Trump administration has signed an executive order that’ll ban transactions with it and WeChat in 45 days. The firm has repeatedly dismissed the allegation that it feeds information back to the Chinese government and that it’s willing to take legal action over Trump’s executive order.
TikTok published an account of what it has been doing in the last year to work with the American government in order to continue operations in the country. It said:
TikTok re-iterated that it doesn’t share user data with the Chinese government and does not censor content at its request. It pointed to the moderation guidelines and algorithm source code that is available in its Transparency Center as proof that it does not collaborate with China on these matters. It said that this level of transparency has not been committed to by any “peer company”.
According to TikTok, the new executive order risks undermining businesses’ trust in the United States and its commitment to the rule of law because this action has not been subject to due process. It said that the U.S. is also risking its reputation for promoting free expression and open markets. The next step for TikTok will be to seek legal action. As legal cases can take a while to conclude, TikTok will no doubt be hoping that the current administration’s term ends before it manages to boot TikTok out of the U.S. market.
Google: Don't sideload our apps on Huawei devices
by Paul Hill
In a post in its Android Help Community, Google has stated that the owners of new Huawei devices should not sideload Google apps because doing so carries a high risk of installing altered software. Further, as the devices are uncertified by Google, the apps may not run reliably which could leave devices open to further issues.
As part of its unrelenting attack on Huawei, the U.S. government added the Chinese firm to its Entity List which prohibits U.S. companies, like Google, from collaborating with Huawei. These measures mean that Huawei devices released after May 16, 2019, do not come with Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, YouTube, the Play Store, and more.
Commenting on the matter, Tristan Ostrowski, Android & Play Legal Director, said:
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting a phone without Google apps, there are third-parties that supply the packages. The Open GApps project is one of the places you can download Google apps. The project is a safe place to download the software from and is recommended by LineageOS, a popular custom ROM. Unfortunately, this method of acquiring the applications does require a bit of technical knowledge.
U.S. Attorney General says the U.S. should buy a controlling stake in Nokia and Ericsson
by Paul Hill
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said that the United States and its allies should buy a “controlling stake” in Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson in a bid to fight off the Chinese company, Huawei. While the move could make Nokia and Ericsson more competitive in the 5G space, it would also be hypocritical after the U.S. has repeatedly alleged that Huawei was too close to the Chinese government and military.
Barr made the comments at a conference concerned with Chinese economic espionage. He said the U.S. should align itself with the two European firms and that this could be done by America buying a controlling share of the firms’ stocks or having a consortium of private American and allied companies do it instead.
While explaining the move, he said:
According to Reuters, both of these firms have a combined market capitalization of around $50 billion, it’s not clear where the United States plans to source the money from or whether foreign regulators would approve the sale. Neither Nokia nor Ericsson have commented on the reports but both of their share prices went up in European trading.