Microsoft sues the U.S. federal government over the right to reveal data requests

Microsoft wants to reveal more information on the data requests it gets from the U.S. federal government. Today, the company filed a lawuit claiming the government has violated the First and Fourth Amendments by ordering Microsoft to keep thousands of data requests to the company secret.

In a blog post, Microsoft's President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith stated:

Over the past 18 months, the U.S. government has required that we maintain secrecy regarding 2,576 legal demands, effectively silencing Microsoft from speaking to customers about warrants or other legal process seeking their data. Notably and even surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68 percent of the total, contained no fixed end date at all. This means that we effectively are prohibited forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data.We believe these actions violate two of the fundamental rights that have been part of this country since its founding. These lengthy and even permanent secrecy orders violate the Fourth Amendment, which gives people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property. They also violate the First Amendment, which guarantees our right to talk to customers about how government action is affecting their data. The constitutional right to free speech is subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling governmental interests, a standard that is neither required by the statute being applied nor met by the government in practice here.

Smith said that while there may be cases where secrecy is needed, Microsoft believes the U.S government is taking things too far with many of their data requests. He added that Microsoft did not take this action to sue the government lightly, and said, "We only do so when we believe that critical principles and important practical consequences are at stake." So far the U.S. Justice Department has not commented on Microsoft's lawsuit.

John Callaham