Microsoft to the Obama administration: No, you can’t have access to users’ emails stored on servers overseas

A federal judge has ruled that Microsoft must turn over emails stored on a server in Ireland, but the software giant, in the face of a contempt charge, is so far refusing to comply with the order, according to Windows IT Pro, because it infringes on the sovereignty of a foreign country:

Judge Loretta Preska, the chief of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled on July 31 that Microsoft was required to hand over email messages stored in an Ireland data center to US prosecutors investigating a criminal case. But she suspended the order temporarily amid complaints from international companies—and tech companies in the US—that argued that allowing US authorities to search and seize data held internationally was illegal.

On Friday, however, she lifted that suspension after prosecutors successfully convinced her that her order was not appealable. The removal of the suspension legally requires Microsoft to hand over the email immediately.
[…]
In the view of Microsoft and many legal experts, federal authorities have no jurisdiction over data stored outside the country. It says that the court order violates Ireland’s sovereignty and that prosecutors need to seek a legal treaty with Ireland in order to obtain the data they want.

Judge Preska of course feels differently, and she has consistently agreed with the prosecution argument that the physical location of email is irrelevant because Microsoft controls the data from its base in the United States.

It’s a very bold stand, to say the least. And, as the article explains, Microsoft’s position may not be limited to concerns over Ireland’s sovereignty. Many tech firms have been concerned about users’ privacy since the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs became public knowledge last summer. They’ve seen trust in them decline and, as a recent study published by the New America Foundation noted, taken a financial hit.

Microsoft, which has backed the new and improved version of the USA FREEDOM Act, may be making an effort to restore users’ faith by becoming the first tech firm to, basically, tell the Obama administration to shove it.


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