Microsoft

FILE – This July 3, 2014, file photo, shows the Microsoft Corp. logo outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, April 14, 2016, Microsoft is suing the U.S. government over a federal law that lets authorities examine its customers’ email or online files without the customers’ knowledge. The lawsuit comes as the tech industry is increasingly butting heads with U.S. officials over customers’ privacy rights. (AP Photo Ted S. Warren, File)

By Brandon Bailey, AP Technology Writer
Associated Press
April 14, 2016, at 2:23 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In the latest clash over privacy rights in the digital age, Microsoft is suing the U.S. government over a federal law that allows authorities to examine customer emails or online files without the individual’s knowledge.

The lawsuit comes as the tech industry is increasingly butting heads with U.S. officials over the right to view a wide range of information — including emails, photos and financial records — that customers are storing on smartphones and in so-called “cloud” computing centers.

Microsoft says the U.S. Justice Department is abusing a decades-old law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to obtain court orders requiring it to turn over customer files stored on its servers, while prohibiting it from notifying the customer. The company says that violates its constitutional rights of free speech and customers’ protection against unreasonable searches.

A Justice Department spokesman said the government had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Seattle federal court.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, says authorities used the law to demand customer information more than 5,600 times in the last 18 months. In nearly half those cases, a court ordered the company to keep the demand secret.

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