U.S. to Limit Use of Secrecy Orders That Microsoft Challenged

Photo
image
“This is an important step for both privacy and free expression,” Bradford L. Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, wrote in a blog post.Credit Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

The Justice Department will limit its use of secrecy orders that prevent internet providers from telling people when the government has obtained a warrant to read their email during an investigation, according to a department memo issued last week.

As a result of the change, Microsoft, which had taken the lead in challenging the department’s practices, said on Monday that it would drop a lawsuit it filed against the government last year. In a blog post Monday night, Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, called the change “another important step in ensuring that people’s privacy rights are protected when they store their personal information in the cloud.”

Microsoft and other internet companies that supported its lawsuit had raised alarms that the government was using a gag order statute in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 in a way that violated the principles of the First and Fourth Amendments. The First Amendment gives companies the right to speak to their customers, and the Fourth Amendment gives people the right to know if the government has searched or seized their property.

Technology companies worried that overuse of the statute could jeopardize the trust people had regarding the privacy of their online data, potentially undermining the growth of cloud computing services.

Microsoft’s chief complaint was that the government was using the gag orders on a routine basis and in some cases making them indefinite, in essence preventing Microsoft from ever telling its customers that their data had been retrieved. During one 18-month period, Microsoft found that 68 percent of the legal demands from the federal government that came with secrecy orders required the company to remain silent on them indefinitely.

In a memorandum on Oct. 19, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, told department lawyers that the secrecy orders should “have an appropriate factual basis and each should extend only as long as necessary to satisfy the government’s interest.” Except under exceptional circumstances, the memorandum said federal prosecutors could seek a delay in notice of one year or less to a person whose communications had been obtained.

“This update further ensures that the department can protect the rights of citizens we serve, while allowing companies to maintain relationships with their customers by notifying those suspected of crimes, or believed to have information relevant to a crime, in a timely manner that information was obtained relating to their user accounts,” Lauren Ehrsam, a department spokeswoman, said by email.

Continue reading the main story

Read more https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/business/microsoft-justice-department-secrecy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Login

FREE! Newsletter

Suscribe now! it´s free!

Rss Factory Menu