Internet Law

Microsoft must give U.S. prosecutors customer email stored on server in Ireland, federal judge rules


A federal judge in Manhattan has upheld a magistrate’s ruling requiring Microsoft to give federal prosecutors emails and other data stored on servers in Ireland.

Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled on Thursday that Microsoft had to comply with the U.S. warrant because it controlled the data, report the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), Courthouse News Service, Reuters, the Washington Post and the New York Times Bits blog. “It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information,” Preska said.

Preska cited a 1984 case that required businesses to disclose business records no matter where they are held, according to the Washington Post. She said Congress was aware of the decision when it passed the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, so the law implicitly authorizes overseas production of data. Preska stayed her order pending appeal.

Microsoft had argued that Microsoft could not be forced to turn over the emails unless the government obtained them through a legal treaty with Ireland, the Wall Street Journal says. But Preska said any intrusion on a foreign sovereignty “is incidental at best,” according to Courthouse News Service.

Several technology companies filed amicus briefs supporting Microsoft, including Apple, AT&T and Verizon. The companies fear that turning over data to the United States could alienate foreign governments seeking more privacy for their citizens, the Wall Street Journal says. Another fear is a loss of business to foreign to competitors, according to Reuters.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith vowed to “appeal promptly,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

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