Microsoft recently read a journalist's Hotmail emails at least in part to discover an ex-employee who leaked Windows secrets to the press, and following backlash the company has cinched up exactly what its stance is on reading non-employees' Hotmail and Outlook emails.

The process for determining when Microsoft will access private users' hotmail emails is apparently quite rigorous, Microsoft Deputy General Counsel & Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs John Frank wrote in a Microsoft TechNet blog post. But that doesn't mean a few revisions aren't in order.

"We will not conduct a search of customer email and other services unless the circumstances would justify a court order, if one were available," Frank wrote of its first policy change.

The company will rely on external legal and investigative support to determine when a court order would be justified and thus when it can read people's emails without permission.

'Extraordinary' excuses

Microsoft also promises that when that does occur, it "will continue to ensure that the search itself is conducted in a proper manner, with supervision by counsel for this purpose."

And the company will disclose in its bi-annual transparency reports the numbers of such searches it carries out and how many users' account are affected.

"We believe that Outlook and Hotmail email are and should be private," Frank wrote.

He described Microsoft's recent actions as "extraordinary" and blamed them on "specific circumstances." He said the company cracked into the blogger's emails "in order to protect our customers and the security and integrity of our products."

Microsoft previously defended its actions by claiming that the blogger whose emails were accessed was also selling Windows server activation information.

In any case, as Frank points out, Microsoft's actions were within the law and did not violate any of the company's own policies.

Via CNET