Despite being ordered to hand over private emails to the U.S Government, Microsoft has made the decision to refuse U.S prosecutors access to its client’s private emails and by doing so is defying a Federal court order. The company is planning to take the matter to appeal and will not be releasing any data or private emails to federal authorities.
The case was originally heard by the Judge Loretta Preska in the U.S District Court in Manhattan on July 31st, and while the order to release private cloud data was issued, it was suspended when numerous complaints were received. A number of technology companies and legal experts have argued that her order has broken international law. If data is not held within U.S borders, the Government and Federal authorities had absolutely no jurisdiction, and should not even be making the request to release data through the U.S court system.
However, on Friday – a month after the suspension was issued – it has been lifted. In spite of this, Microsoft is still refusing to hand over data and private emails. The judge has stated that the matter is one of control, and believes that since the data is held by a U.S company, the physical location of the data is irrelevant and the matter falls entirely under U.S jurisdiction.
Microsoft is arguing that since the data is held in Ireland, if it complies with the order it will be violating Irish law and in a case such as this the correct way of proceeding would be for the U.S Government to arrange a legal treaty with Ireland which would allow access to data and private emails in criminal cases. The case is being closely watched by internet privacy watchdogs as it is believed a precedent could be set in this landmark internet privacy case.
Should the case be ruled in favor of the prosecutors, it would make it difficult for other companies to deny future requests by the U.S Government to release private data held in worldwide cloud data centers. This is not the first time the U.S Government has demanded access to users’ private emails and data, and while companies have made stands in the past on moral grounds, first time that a U.S company has defied an order issued by a Federal court.
Microsoft is fighting the order because it has profound implications for its customers and the cloud data services they are offered. The company is believed to have already suffered as a result of the U.S government’ s online spying activities and should customers believe that their data is not actually private and the U.S Government can gain access to whatever data it wishes, customers would be unlikely to continue using its cloud data services.
Microsoft’s actions have been backed by a number of U.S technology companies including Verizon, Cisco, Apple and AT&T, all of which would be negatively impacted should the appeal be ruled in favor of U.S prosecutors. Many legal experts also agree that federal authorities have absolutely no jurisdiction over data held outside the country’s borders.
Microsoft and Federal prosecutors have until Friday 5th September to advise the judge on how to proceed. In a statement issued by the software giant, “Microsoft will not be turning over the email and plans to appeal”.