Microsoft Caught Up in Email Privacy Row

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Microsoft has tightened its internal procedures after it's staff were found to have read private emails being sent through its Hotmail email service.

The incident was fairly unique and applied to just one account, but it has raised alarm with privacy activists who asked how often this takes place.

The incident related to a Microsoft employee that the company suspected was providing stolen intellectual property, including code relating to its activation process, to a third party who, in turn, had a history of trafficking for profit in this type of material.

The revelation of the search came out due to an ongoing court case against ex-Microsoft employee, Alex Kibalko, who was a Russian native based in the company's Lebanon office. He is alleged to have provided details of the then still under development Windows 8 operating system to an unnamed blogger.

The searches of the blogger's Hotmail account revealed the identity of the leak.

Microsoft says that it cooperated with a police investigation into the suspected IP theft, and where applicable, took out court orders to secure searches of the suspects.

However, it's not actually possible to get a court order to search emails hosted on a company's own servers -- so Microsoft carried out the search of the Hotmail account without a court order.

The company now says that in future, it will not conduct a search of customer email and other services unless the circumstances would justify a court order, if one were available. 

Microsoft added that it will submit its evidence to an outside attorney who is a former federal judge, and rely on that person's decision as to whether a court order would have been issued, and only carry out searches if the decision is in its favour.

While the changes would fix the privacy issue at a technical level, it does leave Microsoft with a privacy black-mark against its name, and a publicity problem to deal with.

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Tags: microsoft  hotmail  USA  Lebanon 

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