Apple, Cisco and other tech giants rally around Microsoft in court battle

16 Jun 2014

Apple, Cisco, Verizon and AT&T have rallied to support Microsoft in its efforts to prevent a US court accessing data stored in its Dublin data centre.

The tech giants have filed to be a “friend of the court” or amicus brief backing Microsoft’s federal court challenge over a warrant to access emails stored on a server in the software giant’s data centres in Ireland.

In May, Microsoft successfully challenged a FBI user information request because the company claimed it violated the user’s right to privacy under the US Constitution.

The case related to a drug trafficking investigation and stemmed from a warrant a judge issued in December.

The case no doubt has implications for US tech giants that operate data centres outside of America’s borders.

Microsoft’s US$630m state-of-the-art data centre on the west side of Dublin is home to some 200 core Microsoft products, from Office 365 to its search platform Bing, its cloud development platform Azure, as well as stalwart products such as Lync, Exchange and SharePoint.

The data centre counts Google and Digital Realty Trust as neighbours in west Dublin.

“In rejecting Microsoft’s motion to vacate the search warrant, the Magistrate erred by failing to consider the conflicting obligations under foreign and domestic law that arise when courts order providers to produce data about foreign users stored in foreign countries,” Apple and Cisco said in the filing.

“By omitting this evaluation—and by dismissing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”) process out of hand with no factual findings regarding the Irish MLAT at issue—the Magistrate placed the burden of reconciling conflicting international laws squarely on U.S. providers.”

Digital sovereignty

Microsoft’s legal counsel Brad Smith, in a recent blog post, was vehement that US search warrants should end at US borders.

“We’re concerned about governmental attempts to use search warrants to force companies to turn over the contents of non-US customer communications that are stored exclusively outside the United States.

“The US government wouldn’t stand for other governments seeking to serve search warrants within American borders to seize the content of US citizens’ emails without going through US legal process. Why should it expect other governments to react any differently?

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years