ACLU: The Feds Need to Stop Being So Secretive


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants in on Microsoft's action against the Department of Justice.

A month after Redmond sued the federal government for censoring disclosure requests, the ACLU this week filed a motion seeking to join the lawsuit.

The US government has required Microsoft to remain silent on 2,576 legal demands—warrants to read emails and other sensitive correspondence—Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in April. Those requests for information are made under a statute of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, which details five situations in which a government entity is allowed to order a company to keep its inquiries classified. They include the potential for witness intimidation, evidence destruction, flight from prosecution, endangering someone's life or safety, and jeopardizing a trial or investigation.

In its lawsuit, Microsoft asked a federal court to declare the statute in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and therefore unconstitutional. The ECPA statute also violates the First Amendment, according to Smith.

The ACLU agrees. "A basic promise of our Constitution is that the government must notify you at some point when it searches or seizes your private information," Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement.

"Notice serves as a crucial check on executive power, and it has been a regular and constitutionally required feature of searches and seizures since the nation's founding," Abdo said. "The government has managed to circumvent this critical protection in the digital realm for decades, but Microsoft's lawsuit offers the courts an opportunity to correct course."

Microsoft did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment, though the ACLU said Redmond "supports" its move.

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