On Thursday, a judge ruled that Microsoft is required to turn over information about its customer’s emails to United States law enforcement officials even though those emails are being stored on a server in another country.
The case has major implications for the entire U.S. cloud storage industry, which has taken to hosting data overseas as a way to placate the concerns of customers fearful of intrusion by U.S. authorities.
Following oral arguments in a New York City courtroom, District Judge Loretta A. Preska found that Microsoft’s control of the data was more legally significant than its physical storage location. Preska’s ruling agrees with a lower court’s decision on the issue.
The case stems from a narcotics investigation. Police wanted access to the metadata for emails sent through Microsoft’s Outlook.com webmail service and held on a server in Dublin, Ireland. A judge issued a warrant for the emails late last year, which Microsoft contested on the grounds the the court lacked the requisite jurisdictional authority. The company lost its initial appeal on the issue in April.
The AP reports that Preska stayed the effect of her ruling to give Microsoft the opportunity to appeal before having to turn over the emails.
“The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court’s decision would not represent the final step in this process,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith told the Wall Street Journal. “We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people’s email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world.”
Privacy advocates argue that the law is on Microsoft’s side in this case, meaning the U.S. government has no legal right to access email data stored overseas.
“The fundamental flaw in the court’s analysis is that a customer’s stored emails are the business records of Microsoft. They’re not,” said Jim Dempsey, Senior Counsel of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), an advocacy group that has been publicly critical of the government’s arguements in the Microsoft case. “They are the property of the subscriber, and the U.S. government should not be able to force Microsoft or anyone else to perfrom a search and seizure in another country.”