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US court orders Microsoft to surrender overseas data

A US court has ruled against Microsoft, making it possible to force companies to turn over information held in a foreign country.

US district judge Loretta A. Preska upheld the original ruling issued in December, which approved a sealed search warrant for a consumer email account that Microsoft stores in Dublin, Ireland. The information was part of a narcotics investigation.

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The court confirmed that the case hinged on who controlled the data rather than where it was stored. Furthermore, the information could be accessed by Microsoft in the US without entering Ireland.

Preska ruled that a person or entity in the United States is responsible for producing materials, if ordered to do so by a law enforcement agency, even if those materials lie outside the US.

Microsoft has stated that the ruling threatens to rewrite the Constitution's protections against illegal search and seizure and could damage US foreign relations. The company has also confirmed that it will appeal the decision and has support from other notable technology firms such as Apple, Cisco Systems and AT&T.

Wayne Watts, AT&T's general counsel said that the ruling set a dangerous precedent.

"There is nothing more critical than protecting the privacy and information of every single AT&T customer — no matter the country in which they reside," he said. "We will strongly support Microsoft's pursuit of a stay and subsequently a successful appeal of this decision."

Microsoft's attorney E. Joshua Rosenkranz felt the ruling increased the likelihood that other countries would try to access information held in the US. He said that recently Chinese authorities had demanded a password to access Microsoft data stored in the United States.

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Microsoft currently offers cloud services in more than 100 countries, with data centres worldwide, meaning the new ruling could have major implications for the firm