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Microsoft makes stand against FBI National Security Letter

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

May 27, 2014

It seems that Microsoft is taking a tougher line with unreasonable requests for customers’ private information. Last Thursday unsealed documents showed that it fought off an attempt by FBI to obtain ’basic subscriber information’ using a National Security Letter (NSL).

General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs of Microsoft, Brad Smith, explained in a blog post that,

We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression. It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data.

Faced with real opposition, the FBI dropped the request, and Smith suggested that this success would encourage Microsoft to be more bullish about such matters in the future

Cynics have suggested that Microsoft’s opposition in this case was a result of the Letter including a gagging order, something that directly conflicts with Microsoft’s campaign to increase trust among users of its flagship Office 360 and cloud data services.

‘The Contract provides that Microsoft disclose data to satisfy legal requirements, comply with law or respond to lawful requests by by a regulatory or judicial body, as required in a legal proceeding. The Contract also provides that unless prohibited by law, Microsoft must use commercially reasonable efforts to give notice of any such disclosures in advance, or as soon as commercially reasonable after such disclosures.’

Rather to our surprise, the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently awarded Microsoft full marks in its annual ‘Who has your Back? Protecting Your Data from Government Requests’ 2014 report, so only time will tell if the company is beginning to show a true concern for its customers’ privacy.

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