Mobile World Congress - Day 1
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Microsoft Gets Backup in Its Fight Against U.S. Government Gag Orders

Sep 06, 2016

Microsoft got support from big tech rivals Apple, Amazon, and Google in its legal fight with the U.S. Department of Justice over government access to customer data, according to Reuters and other reports.

In April, Microsoft sued the U.S. Justice Department, arguing that it should be able to inform customers when a government entity has requested their information. Typically, when it comes to physical files or documents, law enforcement has to get a warrant and present it to the subject of the investigation. That has not been the case in the virtual world, where personal data is often stored in some company's data center rather than in a filing cabinet or even on the person's own computer.

When it filed its suit, Microsoft (msft) president and chief legal officer Brad Smith told The New York Times that the company had received 5,624 demands for customer data over the previous 18 months. Almost half of those requests were covered by a government gag order.

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Given the explosion of cloud computing where almost everyone puts at least some data in Amazon (amzn) Web Services, Apple (aapl)l iCloud, Microsoft Azure, Google (goog) Drive, or other cloud services, the government sees a huge opportunity for data gathering.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the government has argued that secrecy is required to protect the country against criminals and terrorists who are adept at using high-tech tools. But allegations by former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about wide-scale government surveillance has prompted many to question the government's motives and resistance to unencumbered, secret data gathering.

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The deadline for friends-of-the-court briefings in Microsoft's case was Friday. Others who filed in support of Microsoft included news organizations The Washington Post, Fox News, and the National Newspaper Association, and other industry giants like Delta Airlines (dal) and Eli Lilly (lly), many of which use cloud services from Microsoft and other tech vendors.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation also filed documents supporting Microsoft's stance.

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