Microsoft Admits Searching Blogger's Hotmail, Chats For Information

Saturday, 22 Mar 2014 12:20 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Microsoft admits in federal court documents that it forced its way into a blogger's Hotmail account while investigating a leak of sensitive software, But says its decision was justified and it has the right to take "extraordinary actions" based on extraordinary circumstances.

John Frank, a top attorney for Microsoft, said in the company's blog that the action was taken on the specific circumstances.

"In this case, we took extraordinary actions based on the specific circumstances," said John Frank, one of the company's top lawyers, in a blog post Thursday night.

"In order to protect our customers and the security and integrity of our products, we conducted an investigation over many months with law enforcement agencies in multiple countries," said Frank. "This included the issuance of a court order for the search of a home relating to evidence of the criminal acts involved. The investigation repeatedly identified clear evidence that the third party involved intended to sell Microsoft IP and had done so in the past."

Microsoft discovered the breach in 2012, when it learned that an ex-employee leaked proprietary software to a blogger, an FBI complaint says, and the company's lawyers approved "content pulls" of the blogger's accounts.

First company investigators entered the blogger's Hotmail account, reports CNN,  then it read his instant Windows Live messages, leading to Wednesday's arrest of Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee based in Lebanon.

Microsoft insists it can make the decisions, because the terms of service customers agree to when using its products, including Outlook, Hotmail, and Windows Live say they agree to such reviews.

Unlike with a legal search, Microsoft says it does not need a warrant because it owns the servers involved.

Electronic Privacy Information Center Director Ginger McCall said the actions show that "Microsoft clearly believes that the users' personal data belongs to Microsoft, not the users themselves."

But many users don't know there are hidden terms in the privacy policies most tech companies' customers sign when they hit the accept button when using products produced by Microsoft and other companies, said McCall.

"There are hidden terms that the users don't actually know are there," she said. "If the terms were out in the open, people would be horrified by them."

Microsoft said that as a result of criticism surrounding its use of privacy policies, it will loop in an outside lawyer who is a former federal judge, and seek that person's approval before it searches a user's email files.

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