Microsoft victory in overseas data privacy case stands

25 January, 2017, 11:10 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • US court sides with Microsoft on overseas emails

Because of how the federal appellate process works, the Justice Department asked the New York-based appeals court to revisit the case with a larger, en banc, panel-but the outcome fell one judge short.

Judges "readily acknowledge the gravity of this concern", but the 31-year-old U.S. Stored Communications Act (SCA) doesn't allow worldwide search under a U.S. warrant, wrote Judge Susan Carney.

The case centered on a atypical warrant that was issued by United States prosecutors in that it was for data stored in an email account stored by Microsoft overseas. Microsoft believes this to be an abuse of power and they are trying to pave the way for the government and the DOJ to allow companies to notify users when access to their data is given.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City handed Microsoft and Internet privacy advocates a victory when it ruled 4-4 to let stand a decision last summer that said the Department of Justice can not demand data from servers overseas.

Microsoft is believed to be the first USA firm to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held on servers located outside the US.

"The panel majority's decision does not serve any serious, legitimate, or substantial privacy interest", Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote in dissent.

The government had no immediate comment, a spokesman for lawyers in the case said. This case has already garnered a lot of attention, especially from notable tech corporations such as Amazon, Verizon, and Apple, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Some dissenting opinions from judges pointed out that the ruling could hamper law enforcement investigations in the future.

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The judge expressed hope that the panel's view of the 1986 law "can be rectified as soon as possible by a higher judicial authority or by the Congress".

But right after the July ruling, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer said the outcome "provides a major victory for the protection of people's privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments".

Back in December 2013, Magistrate Judge James Francis in the Southern District of NY authorized a search warrant for all emails and other information belonging to the Microsoft user under investigation.

"I'm disturbed by the idea that you can have an invasion of rights or privacy without ever disclosing it", he said.

"We learned things of which we were not aware". Most of the orders have no fixed end date.

Microsoft moved to vacate the warrant for the content held overseas on 18 December 2013.

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