Microsoft to Stop Inspecting Private Emails in Investigations

Microsoft to Stop Inspecting Private Emails in Investigations

By NICK WINGFIELD  MARCH 28, 2014, 5:37 PM 

SEATTLE — Microsoft will no longer snoop on customers’ private communications during investigations of stolen property, the company’s general counsel said on Friday.

Instead, the general counsel, Brad Smith, said Microsoft would hand over any such investigations to law enforcement agencies. Those agencies can then obtain court orders to inspect private communications on Microsoft’s various Internet services, which include and Skype.

The change came a week after Microsoft faced an uproar over the methods it used in 2012 to investigate the suspected leak of software code by a former employee. An important break in that inquiry, which was conducted by an internal team at Microsoft, came when Microsoft read the private Hotmail emails and instant messages by an unnamed French blogger, which led it to the former Microsoft employee, Alex Kibkalo.

Microsoft said it performed such searches of private communications only in rare circumstances. Even though the searches appeared to be legal and in compliance with its own terms of service, the company faced criticism from privacy advocates and others who warned that it would discourage bloggers, journalists and others from using Microsoft communications services.

Reactions to Microsoft’s investigation were intensified by the fact that the company, along with peers in the technology industry, has been a vocal critic of spying by the United States government, practices that have been revealed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.

“Over the past week, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect further on this issue, and as a result of conversations we’ve had internally and with advocacy groups and other experts, we’ve decided to take an additional step and make an important change to our privacy practices,” Mr. Smith said in a blog post announcing its new policy.

“We’ve advocated that governments should rely on formal legal processes and the rule of law for surveillance activities,” he said. “While our own search was clearly within our legal rights, it seems apparent that we should apply a similar principle and rely on formal legal processes for our own investigations involving people who we suspect are stealing from us.”

Immediately after its investigation came to light last week, Microsoft announced more modest changes to its practices, including a plan to consult with a lawyer who was a former judge before inspecting private emails. With that approach, though, Microsoft still faced the perception that it was controlling the entire process.

The downside of the new approach for Microsoft is that referring such cases to law enforcement means it will no longer have control over the pace of investigations that could involve potentially serious threats to its business.

The decision will, however, provide independent oversight to ensure that Microsoft is not inappropriately using its power as the proprietor of popular Internet communications. The reaction from press freedom and privacy advocates on Friday to Microsoft’s change was very positive.


Popular posts from this blog

Report: World’s 1st remote brain surgery via 5G network performed in China

BMW traps alleged thief by remotely locking him in car

Visualizing The Power Of The World's Supercomputers