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Microsoft sues US government over Fourth Amendment violations

Microsoft is suing the US government in hopes that it will gain the right to notify its customers when federal agencies request to view emails and other data stored in its cloud.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle. The basis of Microsoft's argument is that by preventing the company from notifying its customers about requests for data that the government is in violation of US Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment gives all US citizens and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes property. Microsoft believes that this right is being violated since it is unable to let its customers know that their digital property has been searched. The company further argues that its own First Amendment right to free speech is in violation as well.

The US government is required to inform citizens when it searches data stored locally on their personal machines. However now that a majority of user data is stored off site on company servers, the government believes that it has the right to search and seize this data without informing citizens.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is a 30 year old law that is being employed by federal authorities to make companies storing data in the cloud more accessible in their investigations. Microsoft and a number of other tech companies think the law is outdated since it was written before the commercial Internet came to be.

During the past 18 months alone, the company has received 5,624 legal orders under the ECPA. In 2,576 of these cases Microsoft was unable to disclose to its users that the government was seeking customer data. Generally ECPA requests are aimed at individuals and not companies which may help the companies' lawsuit gain attention amongst commercial users of its products.

Apple took the initial charge in the fight that has developed between the tech industry and the US government when it came to encryption. Now Microsoft is taking a stance to not only protect its customers but rather to protect its own business interests that are becoming more and more cloud focused.

Image Credit: photogearch / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.