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Paul Merrell

Microsoft Says U.S. Is Abusing Secret Warrants - 0 views

  • “WE APPRECIATE THAT there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.” With those words, Smith announced that Microsoft was suing the Department of Justice for the right to inform its customers when the government is reading their emails. The last big fight between the Justice Department and Silicon Valley was started by law enforcement, when the FBI demanded that Apple unlock a phone used by San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook. This time, Microsoft is going on the offensive. The move is welcomed by privacy activists as a step forward for transparency — though it’s also for business reasons.
  • Secret government searches are eroding people’s trust in the cloud, Smith wrote — including large and small businesses now keeping massive amounts of records online. “The transition to the cloud does not alter people’s expectations of privacy and should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must — with few exceptions — give notice when it searches and seizes private information or communications,” he wrote. According to the complaint, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands for customer information or data in the past 18 months. Almost half — 2,576 — came with gag orders, and almost half of those — 1,752 — had “no fixed end date” by which Microsoft would no longer be sworn to secrecy. These requests, though signed off on by a judge, qualify as unconstitutional searches, the attorneys argue. It “violates both the Fourth Amendment, which affords people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the First Amendment, which enshrines Microsoft’s rights to talk to its customers and to discuss how the government conducts its investigations — subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling government interests,” they wrote.
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    The Fourth Amendment argument that people have a right to know when their property has been searched or seized is particularly interesting to me. If adopted by the Courts, that could spell the end of surveillance gag orders. 
Paul Merrell

Wikipedia takes feds to court over spying | TheHill - 0 views

  • The foundation behind Wikipedia is suing the U.S. government over spying that it says violates core provisions of the Constitution.The Wikimedia Foundation joined forces on Tuesday with a slew of human rights groups, The Nation magazine and other organizations in a lawsuit accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department of violating the constitutional protections for freedom of speech and privacy.
  • If successful, the lawsuit could land a crippling blow to the web of secretive spying powers wielded by the NSA and exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Despite initial outrage after Snowden’s leaks, Congress has yet to make any serious reforms to the NSA, and many of the programs continue largely unchanged.The lawsuit targets the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance program, which taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the global Internet and allows the agency to collect vast amounts of information about people on the Web.“As a result, whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. is tracking that activity — including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Tretikov and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in a joint New York Times op-ed announcing the lawsuit. Because the operations are largely overseen solely by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which operates out of the public eye and has been accused of acting as a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies — the foundation accused the NSA of violating the guarantees of a fair legal system.In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation and The Nation, the other groups joining the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Pen American Center, the Global Fund for Women, the Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. The groups are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • In 2013, a lawsuit against similar surveillance powers brought by Amnesty International was tossed out by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the organization was not affected by the spying and had no standing to sue. That decision came before Snowden’s leaks later that summer, however, which included a slide featuring Wikipedia’s logo alongside those of Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other top websites. That should be more than enough grounds for a successful suit, the foundation said. In addition to the new suit, there are also a handful of other outstanding legal challenges to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a different program that has inspired some of the most heated antipathy. Those suits are all pending in appeals courts around the country.
Paul Merrell

Microsoft Case: The Government Responds, But Fails to Convince | Just Security - 0 views

  • The government has now filed its Second Circuit brief in the dispute with Microsoft (discussed here, here, and here), challenging key assertions by Microsoft and its many amici, and making a strong argument that a warrant issued under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) requires Microsoft to turn over emails in its custody and control, regardless of whether they are being held (in this case in Dublin). After reading the government’s brief, I am increasingly convinced that nothing in the text, structure, purpose, or legislative history provides a definitive answer to the central issue in the case (a point that the government implicitly concedes), and that, as a result, the dispute really is a policy one. Should, or should not, the government be authorized to compel Microsoft and other ISPs to produce emails of other private communications located in a foreign nation? What are the ramifications of such an answer on the United States’ ability to protect private communications — including that of its citizens — stored within its borders? And what are the implications for the government’s ability (or lack thereof) to access sought-after evidence overseas?
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