Microsoft sues US over secret demands for customer data

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Microsoft is suing the U.S. government over a federal law that allows authorities to examine customer emails or online files without the individual’s knowledge.

The lawsuit comes as the tech industry is increasingly clashing with U.S. officials over the privacy rights of customers. Apple has been waging a high-profile legal battle over the FBI’s attempt to compel that company’s help in obtaining data stored on iPhones.

In Microsoft’s case, the company says the U.S. Justice Department is abusing a decades-old law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to obtain court orders that require the company to turn over email or other customer files that are stored on its servers, while prohibiting Microsoft from notifying the customer. Microsoft says that violates constitutional rights of free speech and protection against unreasonable searches.

Representatives for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Microsoft lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Seattle federal court.

Microsoft says authorities demanded customer information more than 5,600 times in the last 18 months. In nearly half those cases, a court ordered the company to keep the demand secret.

“We appreciate that there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a company release. “But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.”

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