Thursday 23 May 2019

Europe hints it will back Ireland's Microsoft stance

EU commissioner has made a statement on Microsoft and information stored on servers
EU commissioner has made a statement on Microsoft and information stored on servers
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

US courts should not be able to access personal data stored on Microsoft's Irish servers, according to the European Commission's Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova.

"The Commission's view is that personal data held by private companies in the EU should not, in principle, be directly accessed by or transferred to foreign enforcement authorities outside of formal channels of co-operation," said Ms Jourova.

The EU Commissioner's statement will be seen as support for the Government, which has joined with Microsoft in fighting a 2013 FBI warrant that seeks access to personal data on Microsoft's Irish servers as part of a case being investigated.

The warrant, issued by a New York judge, is being seen as a test of Europe's resolve to protect its citizens' and companies' data against police forces abroad acting outside existing international treaties. "The Commission has brought this point to the attention of the US authorities on several occasions and is resolute to further insist on finding a solution to this question," she said.

Ms Jourova was responding to a formal question on the issue by a Portuguese member of the European Parliament, Carlos Coelho.

Mr Coelho had asked whether the US legal warrant ordering Microsoft to hand over information stored in Ireland, violates EU data protection law. He also asked whether the the EU would "intervene".

However, it is not clear that Ms Jourova's statement will have any legal impact on the case, which is due to be heard later this year.

The case could have profound effects on the safety and privacy of data of European citizens, as many of the most-used internet services are US companies. Most European countries' data protection laws guarantee privacy from foreign governments seizing control.

However, if the US court action against Microsoft succeeds without a legal response from the EU, it could nullify legal protections currently relied on by European companies and citizens.

US companies and administrative bodies could access European corporations' data, as well as private information held by Irish and European citizens.

The Microsoft transatlantic legal battle is being fought against the backdrop of recent moves by British Prime Minister David Cameron to give governments and security authorities more access to personal data online by limiting the capabilities of encryption.

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