US tech companies will start warning customers about government data requests

In a case of bad PR trumping legalities, big U.S. tech providers will alert customers when their records have been subpoenaed by the U.S. government, according to a Washington Post report.
Tech companies — Facebook(s fb), Google(s goog), Microsoft(s msft), and Apple(s aapl) among them — have grown increasingly alarmed about government data gathering procedures, in which they receive subpoenas for customer information stored in their cloud systems but are told not to inform their customers about the searches.
Now, according to the Post, those companies have decided to err on the side of disclosure despite what’s printed on the subpoenas. According to the report:

“This increasingly defiant industry stand is giving some of the tens of thousands of Americans whose Internet data gets swept into criminal investigations each year the opportunity to fight in court to prevent disclosures. Prosecutors, however, warn that tech companies may undermine cases by tipping off criminals, giving them time to destroy vital electronic evidence before it can be gathered.”

The report cites industry lawyers who say the companies will start ignoring instructions that tell them not to alert subjects about these data requests. Notably, none of these changes would apply to requests from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which are dubbed secret by law.

Snowden’s legacy

Much of this angst emanates from former NSA hand Edward Snowden’s disclosures about National Security Agency data snooping practices, which have put these companies in a bind: Microsoft, Google et al. want customers to put more of their data in their respective clouds, but customers — abroad as well as in the U.S. — don’t like the idea of secret searches.
Now these companies are revising their policies around customer notifications, in advance of the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s influential “Who has your back” report.
Last week, a federal magistrate judge ruled against Microsoft in its attempt to curb the government’ s subpoena power when it comes to customer data stored outside the U.S. Microsoft will continue to litigate in that case.