It's no secret that law enforcement can subpoena a technology company, compelling it to give them every piece of data it has about you, including your emails, contacts, and anything else. Perhaps the most troubling thing about that is that when the Department of Justice makes the request, they can force the company to not tell you about it.
Microsoft has filed a lawsuit against just that. You can read the entire filing right here or at the bottom of the page.
According to the firm, it has received 5,624 demands for information from the federal government in the last 18 months. Out of those, 2,576 came with gag orders compelling the company to remain silent about them; and of those, 1,752 had no time limit, so Microsoft may never be able to tell anyone about them.
A court can issue a gag order when they believe that notifying the individual could jeopardize the investigation. Despite the lawsuit, Microsoft agrees, but believes that the bar is set too low. After all, in the United States, everyone is officially innocent until proven guilty.
Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft, wrote a blog post called Keeping secrecy the exception, not the rule. In it, he raises the point that secrecy, while indeed necessary, should be rare and certainly not called for in almost half of all requests.
While today’s lawsuit is important, we believe there’s an opportunity for the Department of Justice to adopt a new policy that sets reasonable limitations on the use of these types of secrecy orders. Congress also has a role to play in finding and passing solutions that both protect people’s rights and meet law enforcement’s needs. If the DOJ doesn’t act, then we hope that Congress will amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to implement reasonable rules. In fact, secrecy provisions in ECPA today are out of step with other U.S. laws that contain clearer limitations on secrecy provisions and allow law enforcement flexibility for extensions.
Many privacy advocates think that in today's age of cloud and portable technology, the government is abusing its power. Apple was the first to recently take a very public stand against law enforcement, when the firm was requested to create a back door into iOS.
In the end, the FBI was able to extract data from the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone 5c. The battle was over, but the war rages on.
Apple's and Microsoft's fights are different and similar at the same time. One is about secrecy and the other is about encryption; however, both firms have publicly stated that they want to help law enforcement, but that the government has taken things a step too far.
What do you think? Do you think that users have a right to know if the government has requested access to their data? Let us know in the comments!