Microsoft retreats from demand that killed whistleblower site

Never meant to knock Cryptome.org offline, says Microsoft; whistleblower wants his day in court

Microsoft Corp. today withdrew its demand that Cryptome.org yank the "Microsoft Global Criminal Spy Guide" document from its site and said it had never intended for the whistleblower's domain to be knocked off the Web.

"In this case, we did not ask that this site be taken down, only that Microsoft copyrighted content be removed," said a Microsoft spokeswoman in an e-mailed statement early today. "We are requesting to have the site restored and are no longer seeking the document's removal."

The document, a 17-page guide that Microsoft prepared to show law enforcement how to obtain information about users of its online services -- including Windows Live Hotmail, the Xbox Live gaming network and the Windows Live SkyDrive storage service -- was published by John Young, who runs Cryptome.org, on Feb. 20.

Earlier this week, Microsoft demanded that Young remove the document from his site, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). When Young refused, his Internet provider shut down the site, and Network Solutions LLC, the registrar of Young's domain, put a "legal lock" on the domain name. That last move prevented him from transferring the URL to another Internet service provider.

Originally, Young had been told he had until today to remove the document from his site or face the consequences. Instead, his ISP pulled the plug and Network Solutions locked the domain name a day early, forcing him to scramble Wednesday to find a temporary home for his site.

Today, Network Solutions unlocked the domain and restored the site. Cryptome.org returned to the Web shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern time.

"We removed the legal lock as soon as we received the notification from Microsoft that they withdrew their [DMCA]-based complaint," said Susan Wade, a spokeswoman for Network Solutions.

Prior to Microsoft's turnabout, Young remained combative, effectively daring the company to fight. "We really want this to go to court," he said in a telephone interview early today. "The DMCA needs to be modified, because it's catching a lot of innocent people in its net."

The DMCA, Young argued, makes it much too easy for large companies like Microsoft to demand, and get, cooperation from Internet providers and domain registrars like Network Solutions when the issue is not actually copyright-related but more in the confidentiality arena. "This is an abuse of the copyright law," Young maintained, adding that it wasn't Congress's intent to let companies use the DMCA to quash leaked information. "We want to go to court so [Congress] comes out with a better version [of the DMCA]."

Cryptome.org has rebuffed efforts by other major Internet companies, most recently Yahoo Inc., when they have demanded that the site take down documents spelling out how police can request user information. "They're all bluffing," he said earlier today, putting Microsoft in that crowd.

After Young's site published the "Microsoft Global Criminal Spy Guide," other sites posted the document. It can currently be downloaded from Wikileaks (download PDF), for example.

Microsoft defended the two-year-old document that caused the ruckus. "Like all service providers, Microsoft must respond to lawful requests from law enforcement agencies to provide information related to criminal investigations," the company spokeswoman said today. "We take our responsibility to protect our customers' privacy very seriously, so we have specific guidelines that we use when responding to law enforcement requests."

Computerworld blogger Preston Gralla dug into the document today in his "Leaked Microsoft intelligence document: Here's what Microsoft will reveal to police about you" post.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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