Microsoft Refuses to Share User Details with the FBI, Wins in Court

The company rolls out documents to reveal that it fought the FBI over a gag order

Microsoft is one of the companies that have allegedly been involved in government programs supposed to spy on its users, but the software giant has every time denied such claims, explaining that user details were only shared based on court orders.

Today, Brad Smith, general counsel & executive vice president, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft, revealed that Redmond actually refused to provide the FBI with access to a specific user account and even challenged the agency in court before eventually winning the case.

Smith says that an FBI National Security letter submitted to Microsoft request information about an account belonging to an enterprise customer. The company almost never receives gag orders for enterprise customers, so Microsoft actually wanted to notify the customer in question in order to make him aware that the government seeks to obtain subscriber information.

However, the letter sent by the FBI included a non-disclosure provision, Smith explained, which was the moment when the company decided to move the entire case to the court and fight for the right to let the customer know that the government is planning to access his details.

“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,” Smith pointed out.

Once Microsoft started the legal action to protect the privacy of the customer, the FBI withdrew the letter, Smith explains, so no user details have actually been shared.

The software giant rarely receives user data requests for enterprise customers, he added, so in all cases, the government agencies are redirected to get in touch directly with the customer or notify him directly and only after the permission is received, details are finally provided.

“Fortunately, government requests for customer data belonging to enterprise customers are extremely rare. We therefore have seldom needed to litigate this type of issue. In those rare cases where we have received requests, we’ve succeeded in redirecting the government to obtain the information from the customer, or we have obtained permission from the customer to provide the data. We’re pleased with the outcome of this case, which validates our approach,” Smith added.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time the FBI bluffs and attempts to access user details but gives up on their efforts once the companies involved are asking a court to put things straight. On the good side, most large companies out there have pledged to continue protecting users’ privacy, so let’s just hope that requests for personal details would be rarer in the coming years.

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