Microsoft’s lawsuit against government gag orders will move forward

A Microsoft logo is seen during the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference on April 29, 2015 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California.
Stephen Lam | Getty Images
A Microsoft logo is seen during the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference on April 29, 2015 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California.

Microsoft's lawsuit against the Department of Justice will continue, according to a ruling today from Western Washington District Court. The ruling is a crucial early hurdle for Microsoft's case, which argues that the government's gag-ordered searches of Microsoft accounts violates the constitutional right to free speech.

"Microsoft brings this case because its customers have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails, and because Microsoft has a right to tell them," the company argued in its initial complaint.

In the same ruling, the judge declined to uphold Microsoft's Fourth Amendment case against the gag-ordered searches, finding that the precedent involved was too significant to be overturned at the district level.

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The case comes at the same time as a similar suit brought by Twitter, which seeks to disclose more data on the number of National Security Letters sent to the company. Twitter argues it had a First Amendment right to disclose the data, an argument that has met significant resistance from the government. The next hearing in the case will be on February 14th.

Today's ruling was made by District Judge James Robart, a Bush appointee who drew attention earlier this month after ruling against Donald Trump's controversial immigration order. Finding serious doubts about the legality of the order, Robart issued a nationwide restraining order against enforcement, the strongest judiciary action against the order so far. Donald Trump lashed out against the ruling on Twitter, describing Robart as "a so-called judge."