Tech giants back Microsoft's gag order lawsuit

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Tech giants back Microsoft's gag order lawsuit

Enter Redmond's ongoing fight with US government.

Technology, media, pharmaceutical and other companies, along with major corporate lobbying groups, have filed legal briefs in support of a Microsoft lawsuit that aims to strike down a law preventing companies from telling customers the government is seeking their data.

Friday was the deadline for filing of friend-of-the-court briefs by nonparticipants in the case. The filings show broad support for Microsoft and the technology industry in its latest high-profile clash with the US Justice Department over digital privacy and surveillance.

Microsoft's backers include Apple, Google, Amazon, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Delta Air Lines, Eli Lilly, BP America, the Washington Post, Fox News, the National Newspaper Association, and many others.

Microsoft filed its lawsuit in a Seattle federal court in April, arguing that a law allowing the government to seize computer data located on third-party computers and barring companies from telling their customers that they are targets is unconstitutional.

The Justice Department argues Microsoft has no standing to bring the case and the public has a "compelling interest in keeping criminal investigations confidential". Procedural safeguards also protect constitutional rights, it contends. A Justice Department spokesman declined comment on the recent filings.

Microsoft says the government is violating the Fourth Amendment, which establishes the right for people and businesses to know if the government searches or seizes their property, in addition to Microsoft's First Amendment right to free speech.

In the suit, which focuses on the storage of data on remote servers, Microsoft said it had been subjected to 2600 federal court orders within the past 18 months prohibiting the company from informing customers their data was given to authorities pursuing criminal investigations.

Under the authority of the 30-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the government is increasingly directing investigations at parties that store data in the cloud, Microsoft argued in its suit.

Five former law enforcement officials who worked for the FBI or Justice Department in Washington state also submitted a brief supporting Microsoft.

In July, a federal appeals court sided 3-0 with Microsoft in a separate case against the Justice Department, ruling the government could not force the tech company to hand over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.

The Justice Department has not decided whether to appeal that decision, a spokesman said.

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