Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR), Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) are the latest tech giants to affirm their support for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) in the fight against US government gag orders. The companies say they are coming together to prevent indiscriminate use of unconstitutional orders that curtail people’s right to privacy.
Gag Orders Tussle
Joining Microsoft in the fight against gag orders are civil right groups, over a dozen US business as well as former law enforcement officers. More than 80 signatories have already rallied behind the tech giant as they look to take the government head on, on the oppressive privacy law.
Under the Stored Communications Act, the US government can compel companies to hand over consumer information without notifying the customer in question. The law was designed to guarantee swift access of information for the government where national security is at risk more so in terrorism related matters. However, that has not been case given the requests received so far and likely won’t be for most of the requests.
Companies have also raised concern with the requirements for the issuance of gag orders which are usually low such that requests will always be met. They have also raised concerns that such orders tend to stay in place for an indefinite period.
In a bid to fend off the use of gag orders by the government, Microsoft sued it in April arguing that such policies are unconstitutional and a threat to people’s privacy. The software giant in its defense argues that the government should not be allowed to bar companies from notifying people that their data has been handed over to investigators.
“We believe that with rare exceptions consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records,” said Microsoft chief counsel Brad Smith.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is among the 80 signatories, argues that when searches are done in private, it becomes increasingly impossible to challenge law enforcement agencies when they invade on people’s privacy. Apple and Mozilla on their briefs argue that gag order provisions continue to harm US businesses abroad, especially in areas where disclosures are necessary.
This year alone, Apple says it has received 6,432 requests for people’s data, 51% of which came with a gag order. The iPhone maker also says that it has received 590 ‘unlimited/indefinite’ gag orders. Over the last 18 months, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has received 2,600 gag orders.