Microsoft is dropping its lawsuit against the United States government after the Department of Justice agreed to change its standard never-ending gag orders. The Redmond software maker has called it "an unequivocal win" for customers and applauded DOJ for taking "steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans."
The new policy limits the practice of requiring companies to indefinitely stay silent when the government demands access to consumer data. Gag orders are used by the government to keep data providers silent about this access to make sure the targets aren't aware of any ongoing investigations. However, Microsoft had argued that the secrecy orders should only be used when necessary and for defined periods of time.
Microsoft didn't want to stay silent over government's data requests
Apple, Amazon, Google, Dropbox, and several other companies had supported Microsoft when it filed the lawsuit last year to push DOJ to make secrecy an exception, not the rule. The Windows maker had filed this lawsuit targeting Section 2705(b) of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows the government to obtain secrecy orders preventing companies from letting their customers know when their data is the target of a federal warrant.
Microsoft had argued that the government has violated the First and the Fourth Amendments by ordering Microsoft to keep thousands of data requests secret, many of them indefinitely.
"This is an important step for both privacy and free expression," Brad Smith, the company’s chief legal officer, wrote in the blog post. "Today’s policy doesn’t address all of the problems with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)," Smith added putting pressure on Congress to amend the Act. He said that Congress needs to tackle the issue and update this outdated 1986 law. "We hope Congress will make this positive step forward more permanent by updating outdated laws to better protect our digital rights while still enabling law enforcement to do its job."