Microsoft Challenges U.S. Government’s Demands To Seize Offshore E-mails

Microsoft is staying committed to a promise made by their chief counsel Brad Smith a few months ago. Smith said the company would fight legal demands from U.S. authorities to turn over data stored in Microsoft computing hubs outside the country. The promise was made after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents that claimed Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others were complicit in helping the U.S. government spy on its citizens.

Microsoft is opposing a U.S. government demand for a user’s emails stored on company computers outside the country. Microsoft in a court filing dated Friday said it opposed a search warrant for information on a user’s online emails stored in Microsoft’s Ireland data center. Microsoft alluded to the public mistrust of how tech companies protect people’s personal information.

“The Government’s position in this case further erodes that trust, and will ultimately erode the leadership of U.S. technology companies in the global market,” the company wrote.

“Congress has not authorized the issuance of warrants that reach outside U.S. territory,” Microsoft wrote in the filing with U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Speaking on behalf of U.S. government, in an April court filing, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Microsoft’s legal arguments don’t hold up. Nothing in a U.S. law on computerized data allows companies to deny demands on data stored outside the U.S., he wrote.

A magistrate judge first issued the search warrant in December for emails from a Microsoft Web email account. The judge in April denied Microsoft effort to annul the warrant, the filing said. It still remains unknown what exactly the U.S. government is looking for or which agency sent in the request since their filings remain partially redacted.

Most legal experts do not believe Microsoft will win the court case since it is headquartered in the United States. But in this post-Snowden era it is at least important Microsoft tries to fight.  Telecom giant Verizon separately wrote this week to the court to support Microsoft’s legal argument against the search warrant.

The outcomes of cases like these could have huge implications for Microsoft cloud business (Azure). Microsoft has bet billions on their service and even their new CEO was previously head of Azure.  If companies in foreign countries are afraid to use cloud services from U.S. based companies, this could have implications on the industry as a whole.

What is undisputed is the U.S. government has gone too far. Maybe we can hope for change next time.

Source: WSJ and Document Cloud

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