Microsoft used Hotmail account to ID leaker, but says it will handle future probes differently

Criticized for using an employee’s personal Hotmail account as an investigative tool in an internal probe, Microsoft Corp. has promised to handle such situations differently in the future.

The company has access to Hotmail because it provides the service. Hence, when a former employee, now charged by federal prosecutors, was suspected of providing software code to a blogger, the company went into the blogger’s Hotmail account to identify the culprit, reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

Under Hotmail’s terms of use, Microsoft can review users’ emails in response to law enforcement requests, and to “protect the rights or property of Microsoft.”

In the future, however, Microsoft will present evidence to an outside lawyer, who formerly worked as a federal judge, before taking such action, assuming that he agrees there would be grounds for a court order to get the information, said John Frank, deputy general counsel for the company, in a written statement provided to the newspaper.

Privacy advocates are divided about the plan. Some praised the company for adopting the safeguard, but at least one wondered why a private alternative to traditional law enforcement was needed, the WSJ reports.

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