Microsoft Defeats FBI In Privacy Case But FBI Wins Anyway

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Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and the FBI faced each other in a case, in which the FBI requested that the company hand over some customer-related data but wanted its request to remain confidential for national security purposes. In this case, Microsoft eventually ended up victorious, but it may be that FBI got what it needed without the company’s help and hence, left the fight.

Microsoft pleased with the outcome

The FBI issued a National Security Letter to Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) in 2013, requesting subscriber information about a single user account for one of the company’s enterprise customers. That’s according to documents that were unsealed by a federal court in Seattle on Thursday. Microsoft was forbidden from disclosing the request to the company that was affected due to a nondisclosure provision.

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Chief Counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post, “The non-disclosure provision was unlawful and violated our constitutional right to free expression.” He added, “It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data.”

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) filed a petition challenging the NSL in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. After that, the “FBI withdrew its letter,” Smith wrote, adding that they are “pleased” with the end result, which suggests that the company is following a right approach.

Why the FBI backed out

The unsealed documents revealed why the FBI didn’t challenge Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s petition. The agency was successful at obtaining the information it sought by directly connecting with the targeted Microsoft customer. The information was shared in such a manner that “the confidentiality of the investigation” was maintained. Microsoft’s petition could have been fought by the FBI if it did not succeed in keeping the probe quiet, as indicated by the given reasoning.

Smith considers this a victory for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) even though the FBI withdrew the letter, for other reasons. Although the government rarely requests enterprise customer data, “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,” he wrote.

Many technology companies, including Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), have vowed to closely examine any requests for data by the U.S. government.

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