Microsoft drops suit after Justice Department amends ‘sneak-and-peek’ searches

Microsoft is stepping back from a case it filed last year against the federal government over “sneak-and-peek” search practices of the Department of Justice.

Microsoft said late Monday that it is dropping the case after the Justice Department said it would curb the practice of issuing orders for companies to turn over data about their customers without letting the individuals know they were being investigated. The practice, commonly referred to as “sneak-and-peek,” immediately became controversial due to factors such as the growth of information being stored in cloud-based environments, and individuals’ fears over the security of their personal data in such new technological environments.

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The Justice Department relented, and last week set new guidelines designed to make sneak-and-peek searches more selective. Those guidelines include notifying individuals sooner about their being subject to a search, and making “an individualized and meaningful assessment” to determine whether such a secret search order is warranted.

Microsoft sued the DoJ in April 2016 after saying that it received almost 2,800 sneak-and-peek demands from the government in the 18 months prior to its suit. Microsoft received support from Amazon and Google parent company Alphabet in its lawsuit.

To show that it wasn’t going to wait for the case to wind its way through the courts, in September, Microsoft unveiled new cloud-based encryption technologies that, if used properly, could help individual evade the government’s searching efforts. Those technologies give individuals the ability to control access to their content stored in Microsoft’s data centers.

Microsoft applauded the government for adapting its sneak-and-peek rules, but the company said it could go back to court if it feels the DoJ is operating beyond the bounds of its new guidelines.

Photo: People walk past a Microsoft office in New York on Oct. 6, 2015. The computing giant has dropped a suit against the Department of Justice over its “sneak-and-peek” information search practices. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)


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