Saturday 21 September 2019

Irish email to be judged by the US Supreme Court in Microsoft case

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The US Supreme Court is to decide on an email dispute involving Microsoft's Irish facilities.

The case, centering around a refusal by Microsoft to hand over Irish emails based on US warrants, could have long-term repercussions on international cloud computing and diplomatic relations.

The unidentified person at the centre of the case, which arose on foot of a criminal enquiry, is a resident of Ireland.

The dispute stems from a 2013 effort in the US to get emails that the government there says would show evidence of drug-trafficking.

Officials obtained a search warrant, but Microsoft refused to hand over the information and took the matter to court.

Microsoft resisted the warrant, arguing that local law should apply or legal uncertainty between jurisdictions would reign.

Last year, a US federal court agreed with the company, which was joined by the Irish Government in an 'amicus' capacity.

Microsoft has a significant data-centre presence in Ireland.

However, the Trump administration says that the ruling hampers efforts to fight crime.

"Under this opinion, hundreds - if not thousands - of investigations of crimes, ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud, are being, or will be, hampered by the government's inability to obtain electronic evidence," it argued in court papers.

The US Department of Justice has successfully petitioned for the case to be heard by the US Supreme Court, which will hear arguments early next year and rule by June.

Microsoft president and chief counsel, Brad Smith, said that going back on the earlier court's decision could have significant international implications.

"If the decision were reversed, it would subject every person in the world to every other country's legal process," he said. "The email of a person who lives and works in Dublin would be subject to an American warrant issued by a US court just as an American would be subject to an Irish warrant.

"Our customers tell us that they want to be governed by the laws of their own government and they deserve the certainty of knowing what laws govern their data."

Mr Smith also said that new legal developments in the EU would soon create conditions where the US government's warrant requests of US companies would bring them into even sharper conflict with local laws in other countries.

"Under the General Data Protection Regulation, it would be illegal for a company to bring customer data from Europe into the US in response to a unilateral US search warrant," he wrote.

"This type of legal conflict isn't theoretical. We have declined to comply with similar legal orders in Brazil because they conflict with US law.

"As a result, we have been fined and one of our local employees was criminally charged.

"Neither people nor companies should be put in a position where complying with the laws of one country puts them in conflict with another under whose laws they must operate."

Microsoft urged the court not to hear the case, saying the justices should leave it to Congress to update the 1986 law governing the issue and deal with the many complexities that surround worldwide electronic data storage.

In addition to the Irish amicus brief, many technology companies have lined up behind Microsoft.

Irish Independent

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