Apple Inc., Google, Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft may be both direct and indirect competitors in the highly volatile tech industry, but that doesn’t mean they are all bitter enemies. On the contrary, large companies like these know that healthy competition makes for a strong industry. More importantly, perhaps, companies who may also be competitors should unite under a common banner when the government interferes with their business.
Such is the setting for a specific case in which Microsoft—and these competitors who support them—argue that the US government needs to stop conducting “sneak-and-peek” searches of customer e-mails. The software company (et al) claim that the future of mobile technology could be entirely in jeopardy if consumers can’t trust their private affairs to remain as such without the meddling of government agencies “far beyond any necessary limits”.
In the regulatory court filing, the company argues, “The government’s ability to engage in surreptitious searches of homes and tangible things is practically and legally limited. But the act allows the government to search personal data stored in the cloud without ever notifying an account owner that her data has been searched.”
Even The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have reported to be seeking the filing of so-called friend-of-the-court briefs as supporters of Microsoft. Fox News Network LLC and the Associated Press—along with 27 other news organizations—have inquired into additional, separate filings to join in on this case.
“It’s not every day that Fox News and the ACLU are on the same side of an issue,” comments Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith in an e-mailed statement. “We believe the constitutional rights at stake in this case are of fundamental importance, and people should know when the government accesses their e-mails unless secrecy is truly needed.”
Similarly, Bloomberg intelligence analyst Matt Larson comments that global trust in US surveillance has fallen dramatically since that little incident with Edward Snowden—you might have heard of it—and he says, “Microsoft wants to be able able to tell its customers that these types of proceedings are going on to protect their privacy. The end game for Microsoft here is to at least have the DOJ revisit its procedures when pursuing these warrants.”
In the case, Microsoft alleges that over the past 18 months leading up to the filing of the complaint, in April, it had received in excess than 5,600 federal demands for customer data—and nearly half of those were accompanied by additional secrecy orders that would prevent Microsoft from disclosing the activity to each of the specific customers.