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Microsoft takes on the FBI over forced disclosure of Office 365 data

FBI backs down
Fri May 23 2014, 14:13

MICROSOFT TOOK ON the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and won, although as it turned out, the FBI didn't exactly lose either.

Microsoft took the FBI to court over a request for information about an Office 365 subscriber as part of an investigation.

Microsoft had already made a commitment last December to tell its customers if they were subjects of information requests. It said, "Where a gag order attempts to prohibit us from doing this, we will challenge it in court.

"We've done this successfully in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future to preserve our ability to alert customers when governments seek to obtain their data."

Microsoft challenged the gag order, because, in the words of Brad Smith, the company's general counsel and EVP of legal and corporate affairs, such an order "violated our Constitutional right to free expression", that is to say, the freedom to tell its customers when the Feds are on their backs.

When challenged, the FBI withdrew the request letter, but sealed documents opened in court yesterday showed that the FBI had used other means to get the information it wanted anyway, so while it was a principled stand on the part of Microsoft, the end result was the same.

Microsoft has been keen to promote Office 365 as a subscription service, in spite of the rising tide of free alternatives

The company will be hoping a high profile case such as this one may serve to demonstrate that the holy grail of user privacy is what subscribers get for their money, instead of some cloud based productivity software on loan. µ


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