Microsoft Gains Allies In Overseas Data Legal Tussle

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Microsoft’s legal battle against attempts to access customer data held overseas gains influential backers

Microsoft’s protracted legal fight against attempts by US judicial authorities to obtain customer data held overseas has gained a significant amount of support from major players in both the technology and media industry.

A number of company have today publicly backed Microsoft’s fight against having to surrender emails stored in an Irish data centre, including Apple, Amazon, eBay, Fox News, The Guardian, Forbes, CNN, and the Washington Post.

america security - Shutterstock - © Bruce RolffDublin Data Centre

A year year ago, American prosecutors had issued a warrant for emails stored by Microsoft in an Irish data centre, in connection with a drug-related investigation.

Microsoft objected, but in April a US judge made the order for a search warrant saying that US companies providing Internet services could not refuse valid search warrants for data held overseas.

Another setback happened in late July, when a US judge set a legal precedent when she ruled that Microsoft must hand over a user’s email account to American legal authorities, despite the fact that the data is being held in a overseas data centre.

Microsoft was allowed to appeal her decision to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, and it has now published a long list of influential backers, including scientists, trade associations and advocacy organisations.

Friend Of The Court

Microsoft’s Brad Smith, general counsel and executive VP of legal and corporate affairs, explained in a blog post why Redmond is fighting the search warrant.

“Today represents an important milestone in our litigation concerning the US Government’s attempt to use a search warrant to compel Microsoft to obtain and turn over email of a customer stored in Ireland. That’s because 10 groups are filing their “friend of the court” briefs in New York today,” he wrote.

“Collectively these briefs make one conclusion unmistakably clear. This case involves not a narrow legal question, but a broad policy issue that is fundamental to the future of global technology.”

Smith added that many tech firms store customers data near to them. “This is so consumers and companies can retrieve their personal information more quickly and securely. For example, we store email in our Irish data centre for customers who live in Europe.”

“We believe reforms are needed that ensure that they (law enforcement) do their work in a way that promotes vital privacy protections and builds the trust and confidence of citizens in the US and around the world,” he concluded.

It is worth noting that Microsoft is not alone in facing these types of legal requests.

In July a federal judge in New York issued a warrant against the search-engine giant Google, giving US prosecutors access to the Gmail emails of an unnamed user, who is part of a criminal investigation into money laundering.

Think you know about privacy issues? Try our quiz!