Tech Giants Join Microsoft In Fight Against DOJ

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has lots of allies in its fight against government intrusion. Tech giants Apple, Amazon, and Google have announced their support for Microsoft in its legal fight with the U.S. Department of Justice. News organizations The Washington Post, Fox News, and the National Newspaper Association also filed in support of Microsoft, along with Delta Airlines, BP America, and Eli Lilly. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation also filed documents supporting Microsoft. The deadline for friends-of-the-court briefings in Microsoft’s case was Friday.

In April, Microsoft sued the Justice Department in Seattle federal court over government access to customer data. Microsoft says that a law allowing the government to seize computer data located on third-party computers while barring companies from telling their customers is unconstitutional. Companies can be compelled under 18 U.S. Code § 2703, a part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to turn over certain consumer information to law enforcement for their investigations without the requirement of notice to the customer. Microsoft says the government is violating the Fourth Amendment, which establishes the right for people and businesses to know if the government searches or seizes their property

The company also alleges the government is infringing on Microsoft’s First Amendment right to free speech. Under another statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2705(b), courts can issue gag orders to service providers at the request of the government to prevent them from notifying any other person of the existence of the warrant or similar order. Microsoft argued in the lawsuit that it should be able to inform customers when a government entity has requested their information.

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith reported that the company had received 5,624 demands for customer data over the previous 18 months. A government gag order covered roughly half of those requests. The Justice Department argues that Microsoft has no standing to bring the case. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Friday’s filings.

This is just the latest high-profile clash between the technology industry and the U.S. Justice Department over digital privacy and surveillance. The government sees a huge opportunity for data gathering in the virtual world, where personal data is often stored in some company’s data center. However, allegations about wide-scale government surveillance has prompted many to question the government’s motives.

In July, a federal appeals court ruled for Microsoft in a separate case against the Justice Department, saying that the government could not force the company to hand over customer data stored on servers outside the United States. The Justice Department has not decided whether to appeal that decision.