Microsoft has sued the US government for the right to tell its customers when a federal agency is looking at their emails, reports Reuters. The company argues that by preventing it from notifying customers about government requests, the government contravenes its First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment right for people to know if the government searches or seizes property.
According to Microsoft it has received 5,624 legal orders under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), of which 2,576 prevented the company from disclosing to the user that the government was seeking data on them. Most of these requests were for individuals and not companies, and did not provide a fixed end date to the secrecy clause. Note that earlier in January, Microsoft had said it would inform its users about state sponsored hacking attempts.
Wikimedia vs NSA: In March last year, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice of the United States of America. The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and specifically its large-scale search and seizure of internet communications.
Twitter vs US govt: Back in 2014, Twitter had filed a lawsuit against the US government in a bid to overturn the current prohibitions to publishing the number and type of government requests the microblogging site receives for user information in greater detail. In the lawsuit, Twitter alleged that the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were violating the company’s First Amendment rights by not allowing it to publish the Transparency Report in its entirety.
It’s worth noting that in February the same year the DoJ and some of the leading companies in the digital media space, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn reached an agreement (pdf) regarding reporting of data about government requests for customer information in extremely large ranges (0-999 for example), which doesn’t provide meaningful or sufficient transparency to the public. Twitter had met with officials from the DoJ and the FBI right after this agreement to discuss the scope of its Transparency report. It wanted to report data in smaller ranges like 1-99, but received a negative response.