New process would hand the investigation over to law enforcement to obtain the appropriate warrants to proceed.

Microsoft Outlook 2013 RT resized Microsoft reverses stance on email snooping

Earlier this month Microsoft announced that as part of an investigation into a rogue ex-employee leaking Windows 8 to a tech blogger it had gone into the blogger’s Hotmail account to collect evidence against the employee. While questions loomed about the legality of such a practice (and the court admissibility of collected evidence), Microsoft initially defended the practice. Now, in an about-face, Microsoft has substantially modified its policy on the matter.

In a Friday blog post, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, outlined the changes to the policy which were done after consultations with advocacy groups:

“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. Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required. In addition to changing company policy, in the coming months we will incorporate this change in our customer terms of service, so that it’s clear to consumers and binding on Microsoft.”

Though Microsoft has come out on the side of privacy after a little coercion, as Wired points out Google still defends its policy of email snooping under exceptional circumstances.

“While our terms of service might legally permit such access, we have never done this and it’s hard for me to imagine circumstances where we would investigate a leak in that way,” Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, wrote in an emailed statement to Wired.

While Google and Microsoft might defend their respective email snooping schemes as legal, neither has been tested in court for legality. A good barometer of the policy’s legality will be if Google does a Microsoft-like about face if pressure ramps up, in order to avoid legal action.

Source: Microsoft