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Microsoft is the latest corporation to be challenged by the U.S. Justice Department regarding their ability to have unlimited access to the personal communication details of the tech giant’s millions of users. It is the position of the U.S. Justice Department that having unencumbered access to the information would be valuable in the ongoing effort to stop would-be criminals and terrorists. For that reason, government officials have determined to have a judge to decide the case involving the Microsoft Corporation. This is latest-known attempt by the government to retrieve sensitive information reveals their persistent effort to go as far as to challenge companies in court.
Earlier this year, during an investigation involving drugs and guns, the U.S. Justice Department attempted to force Apple to turn over real-time text messages apparently exchanged between the suspects. According to the New York Times, Apple could not comply with the order due to the fact that the iMessage system is encrypted and can only be accessed by the end-user. Although the case with Apple is not yet settled, the U.S. Justice Department has turned its focus toward the Microsoft Corporation in response to their refusal to comply with a court order in December 2013, in which a warrant was issued for the emails of a suspected drug trafficker. An official at Microsoft informed government authorities that those emails were stored in Dublin, Ireland. Therefore, federal officials would need to secure an order from an Irish court to gain access to the emails. Thus, revealing that the Microsoft Corporation is the latest organization to resist government attempts to invade privacy.
According the New York Times, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith stated, “Clearly, if the U.S. government wins, the door is open for other governments to reach into data centers in the U.S.” This latest development in the ongoing dispute between the government and tech companies demonstrates the tenacity of the U.S. Justice Department and its intent on obtaining a clear path into the private lives of Americans using technology. However, many security experts oppose the all-access pass of the government, indicating their major concerns. The group, referred to as élite security technologists by the New York Times, have concluded that both the British and American governments cannot demand and expect special access to encrypted communications, without compromising the world’s most critical infrastructure and confidential data.
However, the biggest argument from law enforcement officials is that such efforts to prevent them from having access, limit their effective ability to watch kidnappers, other adversaries, and terrorists. In terms of business relationships, the Microsoft Corporation, along with many other tech companies have invested billions of dollars in data centers in Europe and abroad, and if law enforcement agencies are given access to the data stored in them, European firms may become even more reluctant to trust American firms with their sensitive information, according to The Economist. Although the government argues that it does not matter where the data is stored, the Microsoft Corporation is holding its position and will continue to resist the U.S. Justice Department’s attempt to invade the privacy of those that are only suspected of suspicious activity, in addition to the millions of people who have, in some cases, not even received a parking ticket.
Some have argued that the Microsoft Corporation is resisting the government’s attempts to invade the privacy of suspected criminals as a marketing ploy to prove their willingness to do whatever it takes to protect personal information. However, the real reason has to do with the desire of the company to protect their investment of establishing the data centers abroad in the first place. According to CNET, Microsoft Corporation is not only concerned about protecting their investments, but also to guarantee users that the company will continue to resist the government’s attempt to invade their privacy.
In this age of security hacks and multiple data breaches, some have expressed concerns regarding the abuse of power that may result from providing unlimited access to governments known for questionable intentions. Although a lower court has ruled twice against the Microsoft Corporation, a subsequent appeal may lead the case to a decision handed down by the Supreme Court, according to The Economist.
By Jireh Gibson
Edited By Leigh Haugh
New York Times: Apple and Other Tech Companies Tangle With U.S. Over Data Access
The Economist: Should Governments Be Able to Look at Your Data When It Is Abroad?
CNET: Apple, Microsoft Tussle With Feds Over Access to User Data
Top Article and Featured Image Courtesy of James Marvin Phelps’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License