The US software giant has said it will drop a lawsuit against the government after the Department of Justice has changed data request rules on alerting internet users about security agencies accessing their information.
Microsoft declared victory on Monday, saying it was ending its case after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would revise its rules.
The US software giant had filed the lawsuit in April 2016 arguing that the government was violating the constitution by preventing the company from informing its customers about government requests for their emails and other documents.
Now, the new policy limits the use of secrecy orders by US security agencies and calls for such orders to be issued for defined periods. Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief legal officer, said the company had achieved "an unequivocal win for our customers" that protected the constitutional rights of US citizens.
"Until now, the government routinely sought and obtained orders requiring email providers to not tell our customers when the government takes their personal email or records," he wrote in a blog post. "Sometimes these orders don't include a fixed end date, effectively prohibiting us forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data."
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Smith acknowledged that secrecy orders were sometimes required for legitimate reasons, such as protecting individuals at risk from harm or ensuring an investigation was not thwarted. But, he added, at the time the lawsuit was filed, the government appeared to be overusing secrecy orders in a routine fashion, even in cases where the specific facts didn't support them.
Factual evidence requested
In a memo issued last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said any government "gag order" should have an "appropriate factual basis" and may be extend only as long as necessary to satisfy the government's interest.
During the lawsuit, Microsoft presented a survey showing that the company had received 2,576 government gag orders within a period of just 18 months - 68 percent of these were indefinite demands for secrecy.
While Microsoft has agreed to drop its lawsuit, Smith said the company was renewing its call to Congress for the amendment of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which was adopted in 1986 and regulates government access to contemporary electronic communications.
The call comes as the US Supreme Court last week announced it would hear a separate privacy case that pits the Trump administration against Microsoft. It deals with the company's refusal to hand over emails during a US drug trafficking investigation on the basis the police's warrant did not extend to Ireland, where the messages were stored.
The government has appealed a lower court's ruling preventing federal prosecutors from obtaining the emails stored in the Irish servers. Government lawyers argued the lower court ruling threatened national security and public safety.
uhe/jd (Reuters, AFP)