New York, April 16
Companies like Apple and Microsoft are pushing back against government surveillance in the courts, arguing that federal authorities have gone too far in obtaining chats, e-mails and other private information from phones and online services.
The stakes for both sides continue to rise. More and more of daily life is moving into digital devices and online, putting individuals more at risk as messages, files and photos move to the cloud. But that information is also a treasure trove for criminal investigators.Here’s what battleground looks like right now:
APPLE AND THE FBI
Sparks flew for weeks over the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s demand that Apple help it unlock an iPhone linked to the December San Bernardino attack that killed 14 people.
The FBI wanted Apple Inc to create a software tool for bypassing a self-destruct feature on the phone. Apple insisted that doing so would weaken security for all iPhone users. But the government maintained that Apple was required to do so under the All Writs Act, which dates back to 1789.
The two sides appeared to be gearing up for a long court battle, but government announced last month that an outside party had come forward with a way to crack the phone, effectively ending the case. The underlying issue, however, remains unsettled.
Most notably, the Justice Department is still trying to force Apple to help it unlock an iPhone involved in a New York City drug case. The judge in that case ruled government can’t use All Writs Act to justify its request.
MICROSOFT’S COURT BATTLES
Earlier this week, Microsoft filed suit against Justice Department over its use of court orders requiring the firm to turn over customer files stored in its computer centres.
Microsoft says the government is using a dated 1986 law to get court orders for customers’ data, while in some cases prohibiting the company from notifying the customer. Microsoft says those ‘non-disclosure’ orders violate its constitutional right to free speech, as well as its customers’ protection against unreasonable searches.
As per Microsoft, authorities used Electronic Communications Privacy Act to demand customer information more than 5,600 times in last 18 months. In nearly half those cases, the firm was ordered by a court to keep the demand secret and, in 1,750 cases, those gag orders were indefinite.
Microsoft is also fighting the government’s demand for e-mails of a non-US citizen that the company has stored in a data centre located in Ireland. Company officials have argued the case could open the door to other governments demanding information stored in the US.
WHAT OTHER FIRMS ARE DOING
With no end in sight to these battles, other firms are also boosting security in hopes of assuring their customers that their information is safe from government snooping.
Google, Facebook and Yahoo have increased their use of encryption, which shields private information from prying eyes. They’ve also sued for right to report how often authorities demand customer information under national security laws.