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Microsoft sues Justice Dept, says ‘gag orders’ violate customers’ rights

WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) — Microsoft filed a suit against the Justice Department on Thursday, arguing that a federal law that prevents corporations from telling their customers when their information has been requested by investigators violates their customers’ rights under the Constitution.

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, corporations are not allowed to disclose when the government seeks customer email content or other private information if there is a “reason to believe” that disclosure could inhibit an investigation.

Citing a 1995 ruling, Microsoft argues that giving notice to property owners whose information is being searched and seized “is an element of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment.”

In the lawsuit, Microsoft says that, under the First and Fourth Amendment, the government statute — identified as Section 2705(b) of the ECPA — is “facially unconstitutional because … it permits secrecy orders that prohibit providers from telling customers when the government has accessed their private information and data, without requiring constitutionally sufficient proof of the existence of a compelling government interest and without temporally limiting the prohibition to the least restrictive period sufficient to satisfy the government’s compelling interests.”

Microsoft said it received 5,624 federal demands for customer information in the past year and a half and nearly half — 2,576 — were attached with gag orders preventing the company from telling customers about the inquiry.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Microsoft asks the court for a declaratory judgment.

Microsoft Lawsuit against Dept. of Justice

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