August 3, 2014

US Judge Orders Microsoft To Hand Over User’s Emails From Foreign Server

John Hopton for - Your Universe Online

In a case thought to be the first of its kind, Microsoft challenged a warrant issued by the American government requesting that emails stored on a foreign server, in Dublin, Ireland, be submitted as part of a criminal investigation - and lost.

Microsoft's objection was on the grounds that the application of US law overseas was improper, but in the latest episode of a saga which began in December, after the order was issued in connection with a drug trafficking trial, a New York judge has upheld a previous decision in a magistrate’s court stating that Microsoft had no case.

According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said that "It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information." And according to Courthouse News, Judge Preska also insisted that "The production of that information is not an intrusion on the foreign sovereign... It is incidental at best." Microsoft had argued that the same laws applied to electronic mail as to paper mail, but that was dismissed along with the suggestion that the involvement of a foreign server precluded the government from getting the data.

Microsoft explained that its protesting action was in defense of ever decreasing privacy laws. Also, of course, the implications for the company's commercial success are of concern, if foreign users become worried for the confidentiality of their data. In solidarity with all of these concerns, Microsoft was joined by commercial rivals, including Verizon and Apple, in expressing their disapproval.

Meanwhile, BBC News reports that Twitter this week revealed that the number of government requests for its users' data had almost doubled since 2013. "The social network said it received 1,257 requests from the US authorities in the six months to the end of June, and it handed over some information in 72% of cases."

According to Computer World, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said that "If the U.S. government prevails in reaching into other countries' data centers, other governments are sure to follow," and that "We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world." However, with the British government's recent decision that data from British tech companies be subject to requisition regardless of international location, the appearance is that governments are not only determined to obtain data where necessary, but also that international borders are no hindrance.

Microsoft has stated that it will appeal against the decision once more, and Judge Preska said that the decision would be stayed to allow them to do so. At one more light-hearted point during the hearing, when Microsoft's representative in the case Joshua Rosenkranz suggested that hostile foreign states may use her decision as "one of the most respected judges in the United States," to get their hands on users' data, Preska quipped, "Oh, I bet you say that to all the girls." Microsoft may not see the funny side unless their appeal is successful.