Yesterday, Microsoft successfully challenged an FBI National Security Letter seeking information from an account that belonged to one of Microsoft’s enterprise customers.
Microsoft has made it a point to notify businesses and government customers if they receive legal orders that is related to their personal, private information and business. At times, however, a gag order may be issued (a judicial order that a case is not to be discussed in public). Here, the FBI’s letter included a provision of nondisclosure (essentially a provision delineating expectations of confidentiality and who things may or may not be discussed with).
Microsoft’s counsel found this provision to be unconstitutional, violating a basic Constitutional right to free expression. It did this by way of not allowing Microsoft to notify its enterprise customers when they receive legal orders that pertains to their data and information. Accordingly, Microsoft filed a challenge in federal court in Seattle.
Soon after filing the challenge, the FBI withdrew its National Security Letter, either realizing they had no case in response to the challenge or not judging the information they sought to be worth the effort.
Of curious note to me here is that throughout Microsoft’s detailings of the affair, the only parties whose interests they were protecting were those of their enterprise customers. For Microsoft, enterprise customers include “legitimate businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations.” No real mention was ever made regarding small-time individuals. Those that come particularly to mind are Xbox and PC users. Would Microsoft extend this same sort of dedication of protection to us?
It isn’t much of a question for me: the resounding answer is a big “No.” I don’t necessarily blame them, however. After all, I’m sure these enterprise customers are far more important to their business than a singular individual whose Xbox Live account the FBI is seeking information for. Big business will be big business, I suppose.
Nevertheless, I give Microsoft major props for actively challenging the FBI on their unlawful provisions. It may not extend to all of Microsoft’s customers, but it at least appears to be one with good intentions on its shoulders, even if those good intentions are probably overshadowed by financial interests.