Tuesday 20 February 2018

Dublin warns on US bid for data

The Microsoft data centre at Grange Park in Dublin
The Microsoft data centre at Grange Park in Dublin

The Irish Government has said the way the US forced disclosure of foreign data from Microsoft is objectionable and warned it could have implications across Europe.

It followed court action taken by American drug trafficking prosecutors to compel the technology giant to hand over details of an email account held on its Dublin servers.

Irish minister Dara Murphy said a US district court judge had decided to lift a stay on the execution of a criminal search warrant for the information stored by Microsoft but warned due process and an international treaty should be adhered to.

Mr Murphy said: "Co-operation in the area of law enforcement is a fundamental element of our international relations, in particular with our partners in the US, which is why the issue of the transfer of the data itself is not objectionable, but rather the process that is being utilised.

"We must ensure that our data is afforded the maximum protection available and only transferred to other jurisdictions after the process set down in the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty has been followed."

Faith in cloud computing, where vast quantities of information are stored on servers rather than the user's computer, has been affected by Edward Snowden's revelations about US surveillance and by the recent hacking of hundreds of celebrities' photos.

Mr Murphy, a member of the ruling Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition in Dublin and minister for EU affairs and data protection, said compliance with the warrant may result in Microsoft and other US companies with operations in the EU which are served with such warrants in the future being in breach of the Irish Data Protection Acts and the EU Data Protection Directive.

He said: "This would create significant legal uncertainty for Irish and EU consumers and companies regarding the protection of their data which, in this digital age, is everyone's most valuable asset."

The case centres on an investigation into narcotics trafficking. US prosecutors reportedly obtained a search warrant last December to access an email account controlled and maintained by Microsoft servers in Dublin.

There followed legal appeals from the company. Judge Loretta Preska, chief of the US district court in New York, has given Microsoft until Friday to comply with her new order that a search warrant should be executed, it was reported.

Mr Murphy said he was monitoring the case closely and would be seeking the advice of Ireland's data protection commissioner and the attorney general.

"I will also be discussing the implications of this court ruling with both the US charge d'affaires and the American Chamber of Commerce in Dublin with a view to informing the Government of appropriate courses of action."

A Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in Criminal Matters between Ireland and the US has been in force since 2001.

The minister added: "This provides for the due process to be followed for the request and transfer of data in criminal matters."

A Microsoft spokesperson said: "We will not be turning over the email. Everyone agrees this case can and will proceed to the appeals court. This is simply about finding the appropriate procedure for that to happen."

Press Association

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