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Microsoft Promises To Take Legal Advice Before Reading Hotmail Accounts

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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New rules come after the company allegedly read the email account of an ex-employee suspected of leaking Microsoft secrets

Microsoft has promised to show more respect for the privacy of  Outlook email users, after it broke into the account of a former employee suspected of  leaking iformation about the release of Windows 8.

Former employee Alex Kibkalo is accused of stealing and leaking the Windows 8 information to an unnamed French blogger. Microsoft searched his home and checked his Hotmail account  – raising fears that it might routinely access the mail of any customer. Microsoft has promised that i future it will only take such an action after consulting internal external legal experts.

Microsoft took, “extraordinary actions based on the specific circumstances” of the Kibkalo case, according to a blog post from John Frank, the company’s vice president of legal & corporate affairs, which sets out a new procedure for carrying out such investigations in future.

Cybersecurity, Hack © Anatema Shutterstock 2012New rules

Kibkalo was arrested last week following an internal Microsoft investigation into the leak, which was then escalated with law enforcement agencies in multiple countries. The company obtained a court order to search Kibkalo’s home, “in order to protect our customers and the security and integrity of our products.”

Microsoft carried out what it calls a ‘limited review’ of Kibkalo’s Hotmail account, during its internal investigation, before the case went legal. This  raised concerns surrounding Microsoft’s access to user accounts, Frank’s post is in response to this.

“While our actions were within our policies and applicable law in this previous case, we understand the concerns that people have,” admitted Frank. Under these new rules, Microsoft will now never search a customer’s e-mail unless the case would justify a court order. Alongside Microsoft’s internal investigation unit, this court order will now also need to be approved by a legal team inside the company separate from the unit.

This evidence will also then be submitted to an outside attorney, a former federal judge, with Microsoft only continuing to follow the investigation if all sources agree there if sufficient evidence to justify a court order.

Any future searches of a user’s account will only focus on the subject of the investigation, ignoring all other data, and will be supervised by a Microsoft legal counsel at all times.

Lastly, the company has said that in the interests of transparency, it will now publish details on the number of these searches that have taken place in its bi-annual transparency report.

“The privacy of our customers is incredibly important to us,” Frank said. “We believe that Outlook and Hotmail email are and should be private”.

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