Microsoft Dublin data centre case to be heard in US supreme court

17 Oct 2017

Image: FlySnowFly/Shutterstock

Dublin data centre at the centre of a battle for privacy in the digital age.

It has been confirmed that the US supreme court will now get involved in a case concerning Microsoft servers at its Dublin data centre.

The case centres around emails stored on servers in Dublin that are of interest to a drugs case being pursued by the FBI.

‘The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud’

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) was successful in its petition for the case to be heard in the US supreme court in June.

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 its earlier decision, which was seen as a victory for Microsoft and privacy advocates.

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.

Are US data laws relevant for the digital age?

Microsoft argues that the US government’s stance would cause privacy difficulties for individual users online and create conflicts with the laws of other countries in Europe.

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said that if the US government and the FBI have their way in accessing email stored outside the US, it would put the emails of everybody in the world at risk.

“If the US government can unilaterally use a warrant to seize emails outside the United States, what’s to stop other governments from acting unilaterally to seize emails stored inside the United States? At a time when countries are rightly worried about foreign government hacking, the DoJ’s interpretation would open the door to accomplishing the same thing.

“The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud.

“We believe that rather than arguing over an old law in court, it is time for Congress to act by passing new legislation, such as the International Communications Privacy Act [ICPA] of 2017.”

Smith said the ICPA would provide sensible ways for cross-border data access, including a robust legal protection of Americans’ email and notification for foreign countries when required under international law.

“Without these important clarifications, technology companies, law enforcement and the courts will continue to interpret and apply a law to technologies and circumstances far beyond what congressional leaders envisioned in 1986.”

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.

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.

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