Microsoft claims win over FBI, but agency still got its way

The FBI declined to fight Microsoft after it found another way to keep its investigation secret

Microsoft claimed victory over an FBI bid to keep a request for customer data secret for national security reasons, but it appears the government gave up the fight after getting its way without the company.

The FBI issued a National Security Letter to Microsoft in 2013, which requested subscriber information about a single user account for one of the company's enterprise customers, according to documents unsealed on Thursday by a federal court in Seattle.

The letter had a nondisclosure provision that forbade Microsoft from disclosing the request to the company affected, which Microsoft concluded "was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression," wrote Brad Smith, the company's chief legal officer, in a blog post.

"It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data," he wrote.

After Microsoft filed a petition challenging the NSL in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the "FBI withdrew its letter," Smith wrote.

But the unsealed documents showed the reason the FBI didn't challenge Microsoft's petition. The agency had obtained the information it sought directly from the Microsoft customer it had targeted in a way that maintained "the confidentiality of the investigation."

That reasoning would indicate the FBI might have fought Microsoft's petition if it hadn't achieved its aim of keeping the probe quiet.

Still, Smith considered it a victory for Microsoft. Although government requests for enterprise customer data are rare, "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.

"We're pleased with the outcome of this case, which validates our approach," Smith wrote.

Microsoft is one of many technology companies that have vowed to closely scrutinize U.S. government requests for data.

In January, the U.S. Justice Department reached an agreement with technology companies that would allow more details to be released on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders and NSLs, which often must be kept secret.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags U.S. Federal Bureau of InvestigationMicrosoftlegal

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?