Microsoft has just had a federal appeals court rule in their favor in a major privacy case. The U.S government had wanted to force the software giant to hand over customer emails stored overseas. It was a major decision not only for Microsoft, but major players in the privacy sector.
Earlier in 2014, a court had ruled in the government’s favor ordering Microsoft to hand over emails it had stored in one of its servers in Ireland. The court battle seemed to have began when a court ordered the software giant to hand over emails connected to a narcotics case.
This latest decision came from the United States Court of Appeals for Second Circuit in New York. Judge Susan Carney ruled that the federal Stored Communication Act only applies to data stored in the United States. Therefore, it wasn’t applicable for the government to force a company to give away information from servers outside the country.
Indeed the government seems to have lost in this one. Without the warrant, the United States government will have to go through a much lengthier process. This process is set up through a mutual legal assistance treaty with the Irish government to lay their hands on the data. Ireland had filed a brief to show support to Microsoft in the case. Many other parties, especially tech companies like Apple and Cisco also supported the software giant.
Microsoft and other companies store data overseas
Normally tech companies have data servers all over the world and user data may be moved around for back up or so it could easily be accessed by users. In its case, Microsoft argued that handing over data to the United States authorities could eventually endanger the privacy of Americans.
“If the Government prevails here, the United States will have no ground to complain when foreign agents — be they friend or foe — raid Microsoft offices in their jurisdictions and order them to download U.S. citizens’ private emails from computers located in this country,” the company argued in its opening brief of the appeal.
In an emailed statement, the company’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith expressed how they were pleased with the court’s decision.
“The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries; it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain; and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs,” Smith said in the statement.
As expected, it was also a welcome decision among privacy advocates. Among those who submitted briefs to support Microsoft in the case included Electronic Frontier Foundation who issued a statement after the court’s decision saying it was groundbreaking and it would certainly help protect privacy around the world.
On the other hand, the United States government was not so pleased by the decision. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the government was disappointed at the decision and was contemplating other options. He added that it was necessary for the justice department to quickly access information stored by American companies overseas (Microsoft included) for public safety and also ensure justice for crime victims.