Microsoft Ordered to Hand Over Data to the U.S. Government


In April, Microsoft tried to quash a search warrant from law enforcement agents in the United States (U.S.) that asked the technology company to produce the contents of one of its customer’s emails stored on a server located in Dublin, Ireland. The magistrate court denied Microsoft’s challenge, and Microsoft appealed. On July 31st, the software giant presented its case in the Southern District of New York where it was dealt another loss.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, after two hours of oral argument, affirmed the magistrate court’s decision and ordered Microsoft to hand over the user data stored in Ireland in accordance with the original warrant. Microsoft argued that the warrant exceeded U.S. jurisdictional reach. However, the court explained that the decision turned on section 442(1)(a) of Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations. The provision says that a court can permit a U.S. agency “to order a person subject to its jurisdiction to produce documents, objects or other information relevant to an action or investigation, even if the information or the person in possession of the information is outside the United States.” Because Microsoft is located in the U.S., the information it controlled abroad could be subject to domestic jurisdiction.

Microsoft had the support of large U.S. technology companies, including Apple, AT&T and Verizon. The larger issue for these companies lies in the U.S. government’s power to seize data and content held in the cloud and stored in locations around the world. When a conflict arises between the data sharing laws of the country where the servers are located and U.S. law, it can put these companies in the difficult position to choose to follow one country’s laws over the other.

Microsoft further argued that the ramifications for international policy are substantial. The company argued that compelling production of foreign stored information was an intrusion upon Irish sovereignty. It said that the decision could be interpreted by foreign countries as a green light to make similar invasions into data stored in the U.S. However, Judge Preska dismissed these concerns as diplomatic issues that were incidental and not of the court’s immediate concern.

The order has been stayed pending appeal.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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