Microsoft takes on US government over data rights

Microsoft is continuing to stand up for itself in a legal battle over whether US authorities should be allowed to use a warrant to extract data from servers which are abroad.

The case in question is a demand for emails which are stored on Microsoft servers in Ireland, and Redmond’s legal team is arguing that it just isn’t right for a US warrant to exert that kind of influence on data stored in another nation.

Previously, a federal court ruled that Redmond should give up its data, no matter where it’s located in the world. The government’s argument is that these stored emails are not to be regarded as personal correspondence, but business records of a cloud service provider, which is a very dangerous distinction to make.

Microsoft isn’t having any of this, and has appealed, believing the court’s judgment should be reversed, noting that the move puts the “fundamental privacy rights” of Americans at risk.

Indeed, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Brad Smith, has written a compelling post (spotted by Ars Technica) hypothesising what would happen if the boot was on the other foot, and a foreign nation was trying the same trick on the US.

Smith asked: “How would the Unites States react if a foreign government attempted to sidestep international law by demanding that a foreign company with offices in the United States produce the personal communications of an American journalist?”

Smith suggests the US would be outraged, unsurprisingly. He’s not alone in that thought, and indeed Microsoft isn’t alone in challenging this verdict, with plenty of other tech firms, including Apple, Cisco, and Verizon, backing Redmond up on this one.

Smith further observed: “If the Government prevails, how can it complain if foreign agents require tech companies to download emails stored in the US? This is a question the Department of Justice hasn’t yet addressed, much less answered.”

The US authorities now have until March to concoct a response to the appeal.