Microsoft Suing Feds Over Customer Privacy Concerns

Jan 30, 2017

Microsoft is suing the U.S. Justice Department, claiming it exploits the company's trove of data on customers who use its cloud-based products.

The Redmond-based company is asking the court to declare that a section of the law that governs electronic privacy is unconstitutional. Specifically, it wants to be able to tell customers when the government is investigating them.

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the courts can order a company like Microsoft not to disclose when an agency comes looking for a customer's information. The company claims to have received nearly 2,600 such orders over the past 18 months.

Microsoft claims such orders violate their customer's Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment bans illegal search and seizure.

Sometimes there are investigations that would be compromised by alerting the person involved, according to Washington state's Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben.

The state isn't involved in this lawsuit, but Alben's office helps the state government navigate privacy issues associated with technology. He said the federal laws that address data privacy are outdated and unclear.

"My perspective is that this is in the public interest," Alben said. "And the companies have a role as custodians of information to clarify what the rules are going to be for the digital age."

The Justice Department claims Microsoft can't assert its customers' constitutional rights as a third party and wants the case dismissed.

A federal judge in Seattle will soon decide whether the lawsuit can move forward.