ACLU joins Microsoft suit against DOJ – USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft got an ally in its lawsuit against theÂ Justice Department Thursday.
TheÂ American Civil Liberties Union has filedÂ a motion to join Microsoft’sÂ effort toÂ challenge DOJÂ gag orders that prevent the tech company from telling customers when the government has ordered it to turn overÂ data.
The ACLU is a Microsoft customer. Microsoft filed itsÂ lawsuit in April, one of a number of legal challenges the Redmond, Wash., company has mounted against growing law enforcementÂ requests for its cloud-based consumer data.
âA basic promise of our Constitution is that the government must notify you at some point when it searches or seizes your private information,â said Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. âNotice serves as a crucial check on executive power, and it has been a regular and constitutionally required feature of searches and seizures since the nationâs founding.â
Microsoft spokesperson David Cuddy said the company “appreciatesÂ the support from the ACLU and many others in the business, legal and policy communities who are concerned about secrecy becoming the norm rather than the exception.â
Using theÂ Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the U.S. government is increasingly targetingÂ data stored in the cloud, according to Microsoft, which says the governmentÂ has mandated secrecy inÂ 2,576 instances over the past 18 months. People would know if the government went through their filing cabinet or their hard drive, but are unaware when their privacy in the cloud is intruded upon.
The 1986 law was written before the Web was born and long before Americans started sending, receiving and storing so much of their personal communications and documents on the Internet.
Microsoft alleges the Electronic Communications Privacy Act violates users’Â Fourth Amendment right that a search be reasonable and Microsoft’s First Amendment right to talk to its users.
“Notably and even surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68%Â of the total, contained no fixed end date at all. This means that we effectively are prohibitedÂ foreverÂ from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data,” Microsoft chief legal officer BradÂ Smith wrote in an April blog post when the suit was announced.
Tech companies increasingly being drawn into legal battles with federal agencies over access to consumer information. A broad swath of major technology names filed amicus briefs on behalf of Apple during the iPhone maker’s protractedÂ battle with the FBI earlier this year over access to the smartphone used by one of the San Bernardino killers.
Contributing: Jessica Guynn
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della CavaÂ on Twitter:Â @marcodellacava