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Microsoft suit is latest tech clash with US over privacy
San Francisco, BdChronicle:
As we live more of our lives online, the companies we trust with our digital secrets are increasingly clashing with authorities who want access to the messages, pictures, financial records and other data we accumulate in electronic form.
Microsoft opened a new front in the battle over digital privacy this week, suing the Justice Department over its use of court orders requiring the company to turn over customer files stored in its computer centers — often without notifying the customer involved.
It's the latest in a series of legal challenges brought by Microsoft and some of its leading competitors. Apple recently fought a high-profile battle over the FBI's demand for help unlocking an encrypted iPhone in San Bernardino, California, and it's continuing to challenge similar demands in other cases.
Other companies, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo, have increased their use of encryption. They've also sued for the right to report how often authorities demand customer information under national security laws, after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of government data-gathering efforts.
Privacy advocates have applauded those moves, while authorities complain they could stymie legitimate investigations. But those legal maneuvers may benefit the companies as well as their customers. In the wake of Snowden's revelations and high-profile hacking attacks, tech firms want to reassure customers their information is safe.
"Privacy is an economic good at this point," said Jennifer Daskal, a former Justice Department attorney who now teaches law at American University in Washington, D.C. "It's good for business because consumers care about it. So the companies are competing over being privacy protective."
Many tech companies make money directly from customer information, of course, by selling advertising targeted to their users' interests and behavior. While some privacy advocates have criticized those practices, others note that's different from handing over information to authorities who have the power to put people in jail.