The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by Microsoft earlier this year over a provision of U.S. law that lets government agencies prevent tech companies from informing customers when investigators seek access to emails and other cloud data.
The suit, filed in April in U.S. District Court in Seattle, challenges a section of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows the government to seek and obtain court orders restricting companies from letting their customers know when their data is the target of a federal warrant, subpoena or court order.
DOJ said in its motion to dismiss the suit Friday that courts issue the non-disclosure orders, not the investigative agencies, so there is no grounds for a legal challenge against the government or the specific provision.
“Microsoft’s challenge effectively asks this Court to adjudicate the lawfulness of thousands of such court orders from across the United States,” DOJ argued.
DOJ also alleges that Microsoft doesn’t have standing to challenge the legal provision because its rights are not being violated and it can’t speak for its users.
Microsoft argued in its original filing that the federal government is violating the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and “people do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud.”
This case is one of several ongoing disputes between government organizations and tech companies over privacy issues. Last week an appeals court ruled that the government can’t force Microsoft to turn over emails stored on overseas servers. Those files were stored at one of Microsoft’s data centers in Ireland, so Microsoft refused to turn over the emails, arguing they fall outside the investigators’ jurisdiction. Two federal courts agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Microsoft.
Apple’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist during the December attack in San Bernardino, California is another high-profile example of this tug-of-war between tech giants and governments. Apple argued that decrypting the phone’s data and breaking into it would weaken security for all users. Apple and the FBI were heading towards a trial earlier this year until a third party emerged to help the FBI successfully hack the phone.