In a case that has drawn concern from privacy groups and major technology companies, a New York-based U.S. District Judge ruled against Microsoft in the company’s effort to oppose a U.S. government search warrant for customer's emails stored in a data centre in Ireland.
Last year, the U.S. government had appealed for a search warrant for e-mails belonging to a user of Microsoft's MSN.com e-mail service related to a drug investigation. The contents of the e-mails were stored in a Microsoft cloud data center in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft refused, saying the U.S. has no authority to issue a search warrant outside its territory, arguing that the government should instead seek the data through its mutual legal assistance treaty with Ireland.
A magistrate ruled for the government and Microsoft had appealed in April to its right against unreasonable search and seizure. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska upheld the April decision. Preska agreed that the question was over control of the data, not the location and Microsoft must turn it over.
The ruling means that data stored overseas by U.S.-based corporations is still subject to U.S. extradition laws, in spite of strong privacy protections in Europe to mitigate such processes.
Joining the Redmond, Wash based company in this battle are Apple, Cisco Systems, Verizon and AT&T and other tech companies. They all submitted court briefs in support of Microsoft, along with the privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The tech giants are concerned they could lose enormous amounts in revenue to competitors from other countries if users fear their information is vulnerable to seizure by US investigators anywhere in the world. If Microsoft loses its appeal, those and the other companies could be forced to hand over customer data stored overseas.
Brad Smith, Microsoft General Counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, said this week in a blog post that the court's decision "(will) not represent the final step in this process....We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the US and around the world."
The ruling comes at a time when U.S. courts are grappling with privacy concerns over personal data. This is a complex situation, to be sure. Several magistrate judges across the country have been divided on the issue, weather search warrants should be used when prosecutors want to seize e-mails from providers. May be if privacy law issues were settled within the U.S. legal system, they could then be applied to cases such as these.