Civil Liberties

U.S. Firms Dealt Another Blow by Order to Microsoft to Surrender Overseas Emails


28 Dreams / Foter

If U.S. goverment officials really want to promote American business and give the economy a boost, forget the crony-tastic Export-Import Bank; they should just stop making services based here look like convenient extensions of snoopy government agencies. But that's not the tack they're following. Instead, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ordered Microsoft to cough up emails stored in another country, chalking up another win for tech companies based anywhere else.

According to CNet's Charles Cooper:

A federal judge said Thursday that Microsoft can't prevent the US Department of Justice from obtaining emails stored in a data center overseas in a case that has raised concern among Internet privacy groups and technology companies.

Chief US District Judge Loretta Preska today ordered Microsoft to comply with a December warrant allowing the DOJ to obtain a customer's email-account data stored in Dublin, Ireland. The US government is seeking the emails in connection with a criminal investigation.

The case isn't over yet. Preska stayed her order while Microsoft takes it to the next level. The company's General Counsel Brad Smith commented, "We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world."

There's no doubt the company will continue to fight the government's effort to extract information from around the world using the company as a proxy—out of survival instinct if for no other reason. Communications companies elsewhere are already using the long reach of the United States government as a marketing point for services located outside of U.S. jurisdiction. After the National Security Agency scandal broke last year, Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation remarked, "Countries are competing to be the Cayman Islands of data privacy."

And yes, more than a few of these "data havens" are governed by officials every bit as intrusive as ours. International telecom Vodafone recently clarified just how snoopy many governments can be. But the U.S. is the country with the PR problem on the issue, whatever the worldwide reality.

Microsoft has a chance of winning this case. Just how the Fourth Amendment applies to data flowing around the globe is a matter that's still in flux. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the government's interpretation of search and seizure protections is bogus, and glosses over the inconvenient (for officials) reality that simply copying data from wherever it's stored is a seizure.

By continuing to treat U.S.-based services as wiretaps on the world, American officials hammer civil liberties at home, and hand a huge marketing win to companies overseas.