Microsoft Says It Can, and Will, Read Your Emails Without a Court Order

The company claims that it’s perfectly alright to search its own servers for data

By Bogdan Popa on March 21st, 2014 09:35 GMT

Microsoft recently managed to hunt down a former employee who previously leaked copies for Windows 7 and Windows 8 to the Internet, but according to court documents, the company has managed to determine his identity after looking into Hotmail accounts. Without court orders, that is.

And still, the company claims that it’s perfectly legal to look into a Hotmail or Outlook.com account without first asking a judge for permission because what it’s doing is actually searching its own servers for information regarding a specific case.

Microsoft vice president and general counsel Frank Shaw said in a statement that although the company is free to look into user accounts for specific information, it’s not doing it, and to give users a better sense of privacy, it’s also tightening internal policies to make sure that emails are stored securely on its servers.

“Courts do not issue orders authorising someone to search themselves, since obviously no such order is needed. So even when we believe we have probable cause, it's not feasible to ask a court to order us to search ourselves,” Shaw explained.

“To ensure we comply with the standards applicable to obtaining a court order, we will rely in the first instance on a legal team separate from the internal investigating team to assess the evidence. We will move forward only if that team concludes there is evidence of a crime that would be sufficient to justify a court order, if one were applicable.”

So what’s the truth, you might ask. It’s pretty difficult to determine whether your emails are secure on Outlook.com right now, especially with Microsoft agreeing that looking into accounts is perfectly legal, but there’s no doubt that taking down whoever leaked Windows copies to the Internet was a priority for the software giant.

The problem with this case, however, is that Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign launched against Google and accusing the search giant for looking into users’ emails to deliver ads doesn’t make much sense now, especially because the Redmond company itself is doing it too, and not for a better ad experience.

Microsoft, on the other hand, says that it’s keen to provide a greater transparency level, so future reports will also include information regarding the number of accounts that got scanned by the company for illegal content. That’s not at all a thing that could calm you down if you’re a privacy advocate, but the company claims that “the privacy of our customers is incredibly important to us.”
Microsoft says that it's perfectly legal to read your emails because it's only looking into its servers
   Microsoft says that it's perfectly legal to read your emails because it's only looking into its servers
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