Last year, the FBI issued a National Security Letter to Microsoft. According to documents unsealed by a Federal court yesterday, the FBI wanted information about one of Microsoft’s enterprise customers user account.

In the letter was a nondisclosure provision that prohibited Microsoft from disclosing the request to the company affected. Something Microsoft deemed “unlawful and violated our Constitutional right to free expression.”

“It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data,” the company’s chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post.

The FBI would withdraw the letter after Microsoft challenged it in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

A win for Microsoft right? Yes. But, the FBI still got what they want.

The FBI still obtained the information they sought from Microsoft. They just obtained the info directly from the customer it was targeting. The FBI said it did so in a way that maintained “the confidentiality of the investigation.”

Would the FBI have fought Microsoft if they couldn’t get the information through other means? Probably.

Brad Smith’s post also gave a glimpse into how often these types of requests occur. “Fortunately, government requests for customer data belonging to enterprise customers are extremely rare. We therefore have seldom needed to litigate this type of issue. In those rare cases where we have received requests, we’ve succeeded in redirecting the government to obtain the information from the customer, or we have obtained permission from the customer to provide the data.”

Smith expressed satisfaction about how the case ended. “We’re pleased with the outcome of this case, which validates our approach.”


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