Apple, Fox News, and ACLU join Microsoft's fight against secret data demands

More than 80 signatories are putting their weight behind Microsoft's cause.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

(Image: file photo)

Dozens of US businesses, tech companies, and prominent rights groups have filed in support of Microsoft, which is currently suing the Justice Department over its use of gag orders.

The software giant announced that it filed suit against in April in an effort to strike down the government's use of gag orders, which Microsoft argues is unconstitutional.

The company said in a legal filing that the government should not be allowed to prevent a company from telling a customer when their data has been turned over to investigators. These gag orders can be used in cases where national security is at risk, such as terrorism investigations, but often aren't.

As of Friday, the deadline for filing amicus briefs in the case, more than 80 signatories have rallied behind the company.

Many of those who signed also include attorneys, law professors, and former law enforcement officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a brief earlier this year.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed its brief on Friday, commented in a blog post:

"When electronic searches are done in secret, we lose our right to challenge the legality of law enforcement invasions of privacy. The Fourth Amendment doesn't allow that, and it's time for the government to step up and respect the Constitution," said senior staff attorney Lee Tien.

Apple and Mozilla were among other tech companies who also filed a brief with the court. The tech duo argued that the gag order provisions harms US businesses abroad, particularly in Europe, where disclosures are necessary.

Apple admitted that it had received around 590 "unlimited or indefinite duration" gag orders so far this year.

In Twitter's brief, the company said that in the 6,432 times it was compelled to turn over customer data, 51 percent of those were accompanied by a gag order -- and half of those gag orders were for an indefinite period of time.

"The standard for an unlimited gag order is so low that it can be met in almost every case. Once entered, the gag order will tend to stay in place," said Twitter's brief.

Other signatories include Alaska Airlines, BP America, Getty Images, GlaxoSmithKline, and the US Chamber of Commerce.

It's a rare coalition of likeminded groups and companies that don't often see eye to eye on, a point that Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, remarked in an emailed statement.

"We're grateful for the strong support from over 80 signatories that reflect so many diverse views. After all, it's not every day that Fox News and the ACLU are on the same side of an issue," said Smith.

The Associated Press (AP), the Seattle Times, the Washington Post, and NPR all filed alongside Fox News.

"We believe the constitutional rights at stake in this case are of fundamental importance, and people should know when the government accesses their emails unless secrecy is truly needed," said Smith.

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