Victory for cloud as Microsoft wins landmark appeal over email on Irish server

15 Jul 2016

Microsoft has won a major legal victory for the cloud industry over US search warrants concerning email stored on a server in Ireland

The US government cannot force Microsoft and other companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the US, a federal court ruled yesterday.

The decision in the US second circuit court of appeals is a defeat for the US Department of Justice, and a victory for Microsoft, cloud service providers and various privacy advocates.

Judge Susan Carney said communications by US service providers on servers outside the US are beyond the reach of domestic search warrants that have been issued under the Stored Communications Act 1986.

Future Human

For the past three years, Microsoft has been embroiled in a pivotal case over whether data stored in data centres outside the US can be subject to US search warrants.

‘This decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments’

Microsoft has been battling a user information request from the FBI because it believes it violates users’ rights to privacy under the US constitution.

The case related to a drug trafficking investigation and stemmed from a warrant a judge issued in December 2013.

The emails in question were stored on a server in Dublin.

Case pivotal to the future of the cloud

The issue became a sort of cause célèbre for the cloud industry, and more than 28 tech and media companies – including players like Apple, Cisco, Salesforce, HP, eBay and Rackspace – 35 computer scientists and 23 trade associations got behind Microsoft.

In December 2014, the Irish Government waded into the battle to issue an amicus curiae brief in the US to defend the privacy of Irish and European citizens.

“We obviously welcome today’s decision by the United States court of appeals for the second circuit,” said Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith.

Smith said the decision ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries, it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain, and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs.

“This decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments. It makes clear that the US Congress did not give the US government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond US borders. As a global company, we’ve long recognised that if people around the world are to trust the technology they use, they need to have confidence that their personal information will be protected by the laws of their own country.

“While Microsoft filed and persisted with this case, we benefited every step of the way from the broad support of many others. We are grateful for this support, including the filing of amicus briefs in the case by 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, 35 of the nation’s leading computer scientists and the government of Ireland itself. The enormous breadth of this support has been vital to the issue, and it remains so as we look to the future.”

Justice image via Shutterstock

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