Microsoft just scored a point for its customers’ privacy. Today, a US District Judge ruled that the government can’t avoid a lawsuit alleging that its surveillance operations violate citizens’ constitutional rights. The judge in question is the same one that Donald Trump recently referred to as a “so-called judge”.
The case dates back to last April, when Microsoft sued the US Department of Justice over FBI email searches that appeared to violate the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens. The FBI’s so-called sneak-and-peak searches let law enforcement spy on unsuspecting customers’ email accounts in such a way that many of the users in question didn’t know that their data was under investigation since the feds demanded Microsoft’s silence. Last month, Andrew Crocker of the Electronic Frontier Foundation referred to these government demands as “secret gag orders”, and Microsoft drew the support of other major tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon.
US District Judge James Robart in Seattle — the aforementioned so-called judge — later listed four separate court decisions that supported the idea that the Justice Department violated Microsoft users’ Constitutional rights. “The public debate has intensified as people increasingly store their information in the cloud and on devices with significant storage capacity,” Judge Robart said. “Government surveillance aided by service providers creates unique considerations because of the vast amount of data service providers have about their customers.”
And obviously this was good news for Microsoft. “We’re pleased this ruling enables our case to move forward toward a reasonable solution that works for law enforcement and ensures secrecy is used only when necessary,” said Brad Smith, the company’s chief legal officer.
Of course, the battle is far from over for Microsoft. The company’s case against the Justice Department will now move forward in Seattle. Let’s just hope they don’t forget what the Bill of Rights means before it’s too late.
We reached out to the Justice Department, which sent us the following statement:
The Justice Department is reviewing the decision and declines to comment further beyond the government’s public filings in this pending litigation.