A federal judge ruled Thursday that a lawsuit Microsoft filed against the U.S. Department of Justice to protect customer privacy can continue.
At issue are so-called ‘gag orders’ that DOJ sometimes imposes on tech companies who have provided customer emails and other data to the department as part of an investigation. Microsoft says its customers have a right to know if their communications are being monitored under a search warrant, while the department maintains the secrecy is necessary to protect national security.
In the lawsuit filed last April, Microsoft had challenged the gag orders on two grounds: that they violated customers’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights and Microsoft’s First Amendment free speech rights. Judge James Robart from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington said he will allow the First Amendment claims to go forward, but struck down the Fourth Amendment argument.
The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the case last July. Other tech companies, including Google and Apple, have weighed in with court briefs in support of Microsoft’s arguments.
The issue of consumer privacy has taken on new dimensions as more and more people are moving personal information to the cloud. When it announced the lawsuit, Microsoft said it had received a whopping 2,500-plus requests for customer information from the government in an 18-month period.
“People should not lose their rights just because they are storing their information in the cloud,” Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith told the New York Times last year.
As The Verge points out, Robart is the same judge who came under Twitter fire from President Donald J. Trump after he issued a stay of Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.