Microsoft has filed a legal suit against the US government over the right to tell customers if the FBI is looking at their email.
The claim was filed on Friday in a federal court in Seattle and argues that the government's insistence that Microsoft keeps information relating to the monitoring of emails carried on remote servers is a breach of the US Constitution.
Microsoft's case cites two of the first five amendments: the Fourth pertaining to the right to know if the government has searched or seized property, and the First Amendment right to free speech.
The problem stems from the use of the cloud. US governments are increasingly turning to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) as a way to investigate storage companies as passive participants rather than protected by constitutional law.
It's far from the first time that the ECPA has been invoked. It's been going on for 30 years, and is likely to continue. But the decision by Microsoft to take on the US government is significant, as the company obviously believes that it can win and perhaps have the law declared unconstitutional.
“People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,” Microsoft argued, adding that the US government “has exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations”.
As with so many of the most problematic laws, the difficulty stems from its age. The ECPA is more than 30 years old, and was never designed with cloud computing in mind. As such, Microsoft contends that its use as a way to cover up increasingly widespread surveillance is a misuse of power.
Microsoft already has the power to reveal the number of requests for information it has received, but now wants to go further by telling the individuals concerned.
Microsoft is itself hoovering up more information than ever about users with the release of Windows 10, so it is an issue that could affect users worldwide.
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