Microsoft Win in Overseas Email Battle Against U.S. Upheld by Court
Jan 25, 2017 04:44 PM EST
The federal court of appeals upheld its ruling in a landmark decision it made in 2014 which forbade the U.S. government from compelling Microsoft and other companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.
The case, Microsoft v U.S., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, centered on an MSN.com email account sought by U.S. prosecutors in 2013 as part of a drug-trafficking investigation, the Seattle Times reports. Microsoft challenged the allegations as it found that the email account's contents were stored in an Irish data center. This would warrant an international seizure which is beyond the government's powers. In its defense, U.S. said that there is an existing data-storage law that allows them to compel Microsoft to hand over the emails.
The court, who ruled against U.S., cited the Storage Communications Act which outlines the privacy of electronic records. The law has been construed to ensure that Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure applied to the digital age. There was no indication that it would apply beyond U.S. borders.
According to Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, the ruling was a victory for privacy and the right of people to have their data controlled by their domestic laws. The case attracted attention from technology and media companies as a reverse ruling would endanger the privacy of customers and force them into not using cloud services. Indeed it had worldwide implications as internet service providers store a number of private and sensitive material on behalf of businesses and individuals.
Meanwhile, the dissenting judges noted that the decision did not properly address the challenges that electronic storage possessed for law enforcement and called upon the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress to reverse it. Such would actually provide an avenue for the facilitation of criminal activity and obstruct programs intended to protect the national security of the United States. Moreover, the judges said it shouldn't matter where the emails were stored since Microsoft was a U.S. based company.