Microsoft wins appeal to protect overseas data
San Francisco (AFP) – Microsoft on Thursday scored a big victory on a keenly watched privacy battlefront, with a US appeals court exonerating the company for refusing to give police user data stored overseas.
A three-judge panel in a US court of appeals in New York City ordered that a finding of contempt against Microsoft be tossed out along with the warrant in the case.
The December 2013 warrant directed Microsoft to turn over the contents of an email account used by a suspected drug trafficker.
The Redmond, Washington-based technology company handed over account information it kept on US soil, but said the content of emails was off-limits because it was stored on servers in Ireland, according to a summary of the case.
The citizenship and location of the suspected drug trafficker were not revealed.
The warrant had been issued under provisions of Stored Communications Act (SCA) legislation enacted as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
Judge Susan Carney of the appeals court said that the SCA does not give US courts authority to force internet companies in the United States to seize customer email contents stored on foreign servers.
“We conclude that Congress did not intend the SCA’s warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially,” the judges said.
“The focus of those provisions is protection of a user’s privacy interests.”
Microsoft welcomed the decision, saying it helped insure people’s privacy rights are protected by laws in their own countries.
The case had been closely watched by those who feared that a ruling against Microsoft would pave the way for countries to force internet firms to disclose user data no matter where in the world it was kept.
“This decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments,” Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith said in an email.
“It makes clear that the US Congress did not give the US Government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond US borders.”
Knowing personal information will be protected by local law is also imperative for people to trust technology companies, Smith reasoned.