US supreme court may get involved in case over email on Microsoft’s Irish servers

26 Jun 2017

The US supreme court. Image: Gary Blakeley/Shutterstock

Long-running case will test the limits on how private email really is and if geography actually matters when it comes to law.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has petitioned the US supreme court to get involved in a case concerning data stored on Microsoft servers in Dublin.

The petition was made over a decision by the appeals court to uphold a verdict barring the US government from forcing Microsoft to hand over emails stored at its Dublin data centre.

In January of this year the court upheld a 14 July decision that was seen as a victory for Microsoft and privacy advocates.

Warning signals

At the time, dissenting judges pointed out that this may not be the end of the case, calling on the US supreme court and Congress to reverse the decision.

Indeed, the DoJ has clearly no intention of giving in and has asked the US supreme court to review court opinion and insisting that the Second Circuit federal appeals court had misinterpreted the law.

In its petition, the DoJ said it was irrelevant where the data was stored if it could still be accessed domestically at the click of a mouse.

For more than three years, 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 are stored on a server in Dublin.

More than 28 tech and media companies (including players such as 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.

If the case finds its way to the US supreme court, the ramifications could be felt be more than 30 data centres in Dublin, the majority of which are owned by US companies including Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

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