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Microsoft has won the right to disclose FBI data requests

Microsoft claimed victory over an FBI bid to keep a request for customer data secret for national security reasons, but it appears the government gave up the fight after getting its way without the company. The FBI issued a National Security Letter to Microsoft in 2013, which requested subscriber information about a single user account for one of the company’s enterprise customers, according to documents unsealed on Thursday by a federal court in Seattle. The letter had a nondisclosure provision that forbade Microsoft from disclosing the request to the company affected.

In a rare legal challenge, Microsoft fought against a secretive data requests from the FBI last year — a National Security Letter (NSL) — and forced the feds to back down, the company revealed Thursday. The FBI asked for Microsoft data concerning an unnamed enterprise customer’s account with an NSL in late 2013. The request came with a gag order, which is normal for NSLs, meaning the company could not disclose the request to anyone, including the customer. Microsoft, however, challenged the gag order in court, alleging it violated its free speech rights. After the challenge, the FBI withdrew its NSL. “We concluded that the nondisclosure provision was unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression,” wrote Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith in the blog post. “It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data.”

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