US government can't force Microsoft to hand over Irish emails, appeals court rules
Microsoft won't be forced to hand over emails stored in Ireland to the US government, a court said in a decision that may affect data security throughout the US technology industry.
A US federal appeals court in New York yesterday overturned a 2014 decision saying the company must hand over messages of a suspected drug trafficker.
The company argued that the earlier decision would create a "global free-for-all" with foreign countries forcing companies to turn over evidence stored in the US.
The Manhattan-based court overturned a ruling by US District Judge Loretta Preska rejecting Microsoft's challenge to the US demand for the contents of a customer's MSN.com email account. The messages were stored on servers in Ireland. The name and home country of the customer haven't been made public.
The law doesn't "authorise courts to issue and enforce against US-based service providers warrants for the seizure of customer email content that is stored exclusively on foreign servers," the appeals court said Microsoft was supported by companies including AT&T Inc and Apple, which argued in favour of higher privacy standards for customer emails.
Internet service providers might have a hard time selling web-based programs if they can't keep records stored in foreign countries safe from unilateral US seizures.
The US government said a ruling in favour of the software company would create a legal loophole to be exploited by fraudsters, hackers and drug traffickers.
Prosecutors argued that the process for requesting evidence through foreign governments can be time-consuming. American law permits them to get the data directly from US-based companies that choose to store it offshore, prosecutors said.
The dispute centred on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, a law passed before the widespread use of email, instant messages and internet-based social networks.
The case is In the Matter of a Warrant to Search a Certain E-Mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corp, 14-02985, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Manhattan. (Bloomberg)