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Microsoft Challenged Gov't Gag Order Because It ‘Violated Our Constitutional Right’ -- and It Just Won


"This case demonstrates the vital role our courts."

AP/Eric Risberg

Microsoft recently came out victorious against a government request for its user data, but only after the feds had obtained what they wanted through other means.

AP/Eric Risberg AP/Eric Risberg

Still, the industry counts it as a success.

The tech giant was issued a National Security Letter, which the government uses to obtain data secretly, last year by the FBI. Such letters place a gag order on the company so they cannot disclose to their users that data is being requested by a government source.

Microsoft challenged this order in court late last year, saying 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," Brad Smith, executive vice president of Microsoft's legal and corporate affairs division, wrote in a blog post.

This week, a federal court in Seattle unsealed the documents related to the case, showing "an important and successful step to protect Microsoft's enterprise customers regarding government surveillance," Smith wrote.

After the company filed the challenge against the letter in court, the FBI withdrew its request.

"In those rare cases where we have received requests, we’ve succeeded in redirecting the government to obtain the information from the customer, or we have obtained permission from the customer to provide the data. We’re pleased with the outcome of this case, which validates our approach," Smith wrote.

"This case demonstrates the vital role our courts continue to play and the cause for confidence they provide," he concluded.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI got the information it wanted directly from the customer instead in this instance, which is the preferred channel that companies like Microsoft wish the government would pursue in the first place.

(H/T: Ars Technica)

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