Microsoft challenged an FBI National Security Letter, and won

Microsoft challenged an FBI National Security Letter, and won

Summary: Documents unsealed by a federal court in Seattle reveal Microsoft successfully litigated an information request from the FBI on one of its enterprise customers.

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Documents unsealed Thursday by a federal court in Seattle reveal that late last year, Microsoft successfully challenged an FBI National Security Letter.

NSLs allow FBI officials to send requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting account information, with the assumption that the information is relevant to a national security investigation.  

The NSL Microsoft received was in regard to one of its enterprise customers and it sought basic subscriber information, Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post.

Like all NSLs, the one Microsoft received contained a gag order that prevented it from notifying its customer about the request, which spurred Microsoft to take legal action. 

Smith noted a previous blog post from December where he had pledged that Microsoft would notify its customers if any legal orders were received relating to their data.

He continued:

In this case, the Letter included a nondisclosure provision and we moved forward to challenge it in court. We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression. It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data.  

After we filed this challenge in Federal Court in Seattle, the FBI withdrew its Letter.

Smith said government requests for enterprise customer data are rare, but that the win was reassuring for its approach to securing customer data. Still, the bigger war for disclosure is far from over. 

Read more:

Topics: Government, Microsoft, Privacy, Security

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94 comments
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  • But Microsoft violated privacy not too long ago.

    I wouldn't call this a win,...rather spin. If the Federal Government wanted to, even if they were in the wrong, could've dragged this forever. The fact that the FBI withdrew the letter tells me that they had better things to do at the moment.

    Let's not forget how Microsoft invaded an Outlook.com account with no warranty at all months after this whole FBI thing occurred.
    VictorWho
    • Links please to this:

      "Let's not forget how Microsoft invaded an Outlook.com account with no warranty at all months after this whole FBI thing occurred."
      ScanBack
      • 7 votes?

        Do y'all live under a rock? That episode was argued about pretty thoroughly online.
        none none
        • and they had just cause to take action

          which was not an invasion. just following up on a pretty dumb criminal act. to use an account with the people you are trying to steal from is pure genius.
          thekman58
          • Just cause?

            Perhaps, but the action they took was inappropriate. It was an invasion. Note that they have now pledged to take any such concerns to the authorities for any investigation required..

            Note also that this was an enterprise customer in the story. If it was a bunch of private users, do you think they would have gone through the effort?
            mdsock@...
          • Are you serious?

            Microsoft did just about everything humanly possible to confirm the appropriateness, transparency and limitation of their actions. By their terms of service they could simply have marched in and taken this data without a second thought. Instead they consulted external legal advice about their actions and made a judgement that what they were doing was correct. And let's not forget that this was a dumb criminal trying to use an Outlook account to steal from Microsoft.
            joneda
        • Wow!

          One friggen account! Google and Yahoo does it every second when it was electronically reading Emails for ads purposes.
          Gisabun
          • re: Wow!

            > Google and Yahoo does it every second
            > when it was electronically reading Emails

            I cannot say with absolute certainty that MS' outlook.com scans emails, too. But I can say with absolute certainty it has users' permission to do so.

            I can say with reasonable certainty, however, that MS does scan emails, too.
            none none
          • You can easily...

            opt out of any tracking in the Outlook.com settings. There is no such thing in gmail.
            kstap
    • They caught someone stealing from them.

      As sad as it is, any e-mail provider has the right to investigate suspicious accounts.

      If someone was growing drugs in your backyard, would you really ask for a warrant to investigate the person?
      ForeverCookie
      • That would depend ...

        On the state laws and whether the growers asked my permission, I might give them some advice as to how to hide their crop from overhead surveillance or ... Would depend on the situation, but I dinna think that I'd nark on 'em.
        RangerJimK
        • A better analogy...

          might be if someone was stealing your furniture from your house and storing it in your garage, would you ask for a warrant to look in your garage?

          If you read the details of that case, there was no way for Microsoft to get legal authorisation (e.g. a search warrant) to investigate the e-mail account because they already had the legal right to do so anyway. They have set up their own process to review and approve such investigations, because that is the only alternative available to them for some kind of oversight and control.
          CageySee
          • A more accurate analogy...

            ...would be if someone was stealing your furniture from your house and storing it in a garage that they were renting from you. In that case you would most likely need a warrant. Even if there was a term in the contract stating you had the right to investigate any suspicious activity, depending on the local laws of the land, the client may still have the right to an expectation of privacy.

            I'm not defending the guy though, what he did was pretty dumb and he deserved to get caught #justsayin
            mattyvx
          • Bad analogy.

            Outlook is free.

            If you're letting someone live in your garage for free, I'm pretty sure you have every right to check if they're doing something illegal.
            ForeverCookie
          • Depends on the circumstances and the jurisdiction

            From a legal point of view "knowing" they've done something illegal and having proof they did it are two different things. Everyone may "know" someone is a criminal. But a lot of criminals continue to walk the streets for lack of evidence.
            mdsock@...
          • This is all what corporate fascism is all about...

            ... and that's why i have avoided Microsoft, just like i have avoided Facebook and (as much i can) Google.
            MacBroderick
        • Enjoyed what you wrote

          If all research is correct. Thank you for your service.
          Thanks!, Panama 4 years............
          daikon
      • re: They caught someone stealing from them.

        > If someone was growing drugs in your backyard, would
        > you really ask for a warrant to investigate the person?

        If someone mistakenly took you for the person growing drugs in my backyard, would you really expect your communications to be seized without a warrant?
        none none
        • Do tell how many folks this has happened to?

          “If someone mistakenly took you for the person growing drugs in my backyard, would you really expect your communications to be seized without a warrant?”
          daikon
          • Clarity, please

            Do you mean how many folks have grown drugs in someone else's back yard? Or do you mean how many folks were wrongly suspected of growing drugs in someone else's back yard? Or do you mean more generally how many folks have been wrongly suspected of a crime? Or do you mean how many folks have had their communications seized without a warrant?
            none none