SEATTLE, March 28 Microsoft Corp, under
fire for accessing an employee's private Hotmail account to
prove he was leaking computer code to a blogger, has said it
will now refer all suspicions of illegal activity on its email
services to law enforcement.
The decision, announced by head lawyer Brad Smith on Friday,
reverses Microsoft's initial reaction to complaints last week,
when it laid out a plan to refer such cases to an unidentified
former federal judge, and proceed to open a suspect email
account only if that person saw evidence to justify it.
"Effective immediately, if we receive information indicating
that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen
intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not
inspect a customer's private content ourselves," said Smith, in
a blog post on the software company's website. "Instead, we will
refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is
Microsoft - which has recently cast itself as a defender of
customer privacy - was harshly criticized last week by civil
liberties groups after court documents made public in the
prosecution of Alex Kibkalo in Seattle federal court for leaking
trade secrets showed that Microsoft had accessed the defendant's
email account before taking the matter to legal authorities.
The company said last week its actions were within its legal
acknowledged that its actions raised concerns about customer
The issue is poignant for Microsoft, which routinely
criticizes Google Inc for serving up ads based on the
content of users' Gmail correspondence.
It has also been campaigning for more transparency in the
legal process through which U.S. intelligence agencies can get
access to email accounts following the revelations of former
National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
"While our own search was clearly within our legal rights,
it seems apparent that we should apply a similar principle and
rely on formal legal processes for our own investigations
involving people who we suspect are stealing from us," said
Smith in his blog. "Therefore, rather than inspect the private
content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should
turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures."
(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Tom Brown)