Microsoft Had To Take a Stand Against Feds
Microsoft's recent lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice shines a spotlight on the latest example of overreach by law enforcement. The suit, filed in mid-April in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, aimed to curb what Microsoft believes is an excessive number of subpoenas by the government to turn over e-mail or documents residing in the company's datacenters. Because the suit didn't point to a specific high-profile legal battle such as the FBI's fight with Apple over the contents on the iPhone used by the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters, Microsoft's move predictably generated less attention.
Nevertheless, the suit documented a consistent pattern of legal demands that are disturbing and hopefully can be settled outside the courtroom.
Microsoft claimed in its filing that the government has filed 5,624 demands for information over the previous 18 months. Nearly half, 2,576, of those demands came with gag orders, prohibiting Microsoft from informing customers that their data was retrieved and turned over to authorities. In two-thirds of those, 68 percent had no end date for the order.
General Michael Hayden, who was director of the National Security Agency (NSA) during the Sept. 11 attacks and later became director of the CIA, has an interesting take on the standoff between Apple and the FBI. Hayden last month told 300 IT pros attending a user conference in New York held by Centrify that challenging companies like Apple is the FBI's legal right but that doesn't mean it's the best approach. "I think it's a bad idea," Hayden said in regard to the FBI's hard line on the matter.
It would also be a bad idea for companies like Apple and Microsoft to give in to law enforcement demands. Fortunately, there's no sign of that happening.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.