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This article was published on April 14, 2016

Microsoft is suing the US government to protect your Fourth Amendment rights

Microsoft is suing the US government to protect your Fourth Amendment rights
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Today, Microsoft filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Washington arguing that the US government is violating Constitutional rights of its users.

The suit takes issue with the Department of Justice’s actions to side-step the Fourth Amendment — which protects the public from unlawful search and seizure (and requires notification if property has been searched) — by preventing Microsoft from notifying thousands of users about government requests for email and other documents.

Under the Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA), the government has the right to access files stored in the cloud, although the legislation itself is from the Reagan administration. Privacy advocates argue that this law was written before the rise of the commercial internet and is therefore outdated.

New legislation could be on its way, but if you’re holding your breath it’s important to know that Congress has been debating, approving and then failing to vote on bills that would update the ECPA for nearly a decade.

By filing suit however, Microsoft is joining the fight with Apple and other tech companies that seem hell-bent on doing battle with the US government over heavy-handed plays for user data.

As the world continues to shift toward a more tech-centric existence where electronics now hold the key to more of our secret communications than ever, it’s clear that a 30-year-old law — built before the rise of the consumer internet — is no longer going to cut it.