A federal judge in Seattle ruled today that Microsoft can move forward with a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, challenging the U.S. government’s ability to keep the company from telling customers when they’re the targets of government warrants.
Allegations in the case “support the reasonable inference that indefinite nondisclosure orders impermissibly burden Microsoft’s First Amendment rights,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Robart in the ruling today, finding that “Microsoft’s complaint contains sufficient factual allegations to support a First Amendment claim.”
However, the judge granted the government’s motion to dismiss Microsoft’s Fourth Amendment claims, which affords people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property. Robart ruled that Microsoft doesn’t have standing to assert Fourth Amendment claims on behalf of its customers.
“We’re pleased this ruling enables our case to move forward toward a reasonable solution that works for law enforcement and ensures secrecy is used only when necessary,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, in a statement provided by the company.
Robart, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, is the same federal judge who made headlines last week for granting a temporary restraining order against President Trump’s executive order on immigration — prompting Trump to criticize him publicly as a “so-called judge.” That case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The separate Microsoft case, the subject of the order today, dates back to the Obama administration.
The suit challenges Section 2705(b) of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which lets the government seek secrecy orders preventing companies from letting their customers know when their data is the target of a federal warrant, subpoena or court order. Sometimes the orders have no time limits.
Read the full text of Robart’s order below and see GeekWire’s earlier coverage of the hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss.