Big Corporations Band Together to Fight the Government's Secrecy in Collecting Citizen Data

The Justice Dept. doesn't think we need to know when they're looking at info about us.


R. Talsorian Games

What does it mean for the state of sci-fi dystopias when Americans have to rely upon those allegedly nasty, self-interested international megacorporations to fight on their behalf against a government that refuses to respect citizens' rights to data privacy?

So it goes with the frequent attempts by government officials and law enforcement agencies to collect our personal information without us knowing they're doing so. We've had Google fighting against a gag that forbid them to even tell its customers how many data requests it has gotten from the National Security Agency (NSA), let alone who it was targeting. We've had Apple's extremely high-profile fight against the Department of Justice over a push to force the company to weaken or bypass its own encryption in a way that could subject everybody to additional secret surveillance.

And we have Microsoft suing to strike down a law that allows the government to gag companies and not let them inform customers when officials demand and collect data about them.

As has been thoroughly established by this point, Supreme Court precedents dating back to the 1970s have determined that information about ourselves and information or data that we ourselves have created don't have full Fourth Amendment protections when they are kept or stored by a third party. Often a full warrant served against the citizen is not needed. A subpoena directed to the company that holds the data is often all that is required. Despite the massive amount of data about citizens held by third-parties now (pretty much everything about us) as compared to what was available then, the precedent still holds for now.

Microsoft filed suit against the Department of Justice in April, arguing that gags prohibiting them from telling customers they've had their data taken by government officials are unconstitutional, violating both the Fourth Amendment rights of their customers and the First Amendment rights of Microsoft. But they're not fighting alone. A whole bunch of corporations from across the spectrum have just announced their support. It's not just tech companies and tech privacy activists, as we've seen in some cases (like the Apple encryption fight). As Reuters notes, we're talking about a wide-ranging group of companies that includes the Washington Post, Delta Air Lines, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Fox News. There are even five former federal law enforcement officials supporting Microsoft's position.

Read more about the case here.