By Barry Eitel
SAN FRANCISCO (AA) - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a motion Thursday requesting to join a lawsuit Microsoft filed against the government challenging gag orders that prevent the company from revealing search warrants requests.
In April, Microsoft filed a legal challenge against the Justice Department.
It disputed the government’s demands for secrecy from the company when search warrants are issued for the emails and other electronic communications of specific users.
Currently, when law enforcement agencies want to sift through private emails sent through Microsoft products, the tech giant is barred from disclosing to the customer that it had received a search warrant.
Calling the suit a “landmark” case, the ACLU -- a Microsoft customer -- moved to assist the company because it views the current system as a dangerous betrayal of consumer privacy.
Historically, the organization points out, the government always gave notice about searches on property because secret searches are usually physically impossible to conceal.
With digital communication, however, no windows need to be broken and no doors need to be busted through. Therefore, most citizens would never know law enforcement snooped on their emails.
"One of the main problems with secret searches -- that is, searches without notice -- is that those searched have no way of challenging the legality of the government’s surveillance,” ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said in an announcement about the filing.
"Those prosecuted often learn of the surveillance against them in court, but many people who are monitored never get prosecuted, and so the only way they can hope to learn of the invasion of their privacy is through the constitutional requirement of notice."
Microsoft, who welcomed the ACLU’s assistance, said it received more than 5,000 requests for user information from law enforcement agencies between September 2014 and March 2016.
Approximately 1,750 of those requests have no fixed end date for the order, meaning the company can never reveal that it received the request.