Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Feds' bid to seize Irish emails threatens US citizen's privacy, Microsoft says

Loek Essers | Dec. 10, 2014
The US government would not allow another country to seize data stored on US soil in the same way, Microsoft said in a court filing.

outlook logo

U.S. demands to seize emails stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland are threatening the privacy of U.S. citizens, Microsoft said in its appeal in an ongoing lawsuit that threatens international relations and may violate European privacy laws.

Microsoft is battling a U.S. district court ruling to hand over emails to U.S. law enforcement. The company was ordered to hand over the data despite it being stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland. According to the district court, the location of the data is not relevant and seeking cooperation with Irish authorities is not necessary for a warrant's powers to reach abroad.

However, there is "no way" the U.S. government would accept the reasoning the district court is using if other countries wanted to access data stored on U.S. soil, Microsoft said in a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Monday. If the warrant is carried out it would open the door to such seizures in the U.S., endangering the privacy of U.S. citizens, Microsoft said.

"Imagine this scenario. Officers of the local Stadtpolizei investigating a suspected leak to the press descend on Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. They serve a warrant to seize a bundle of private letters that a New York Times reporter is storing in a safe deposit box at a Deutsche Bank USA branch in Manhattan. The bank complies by ordering the New York branch manager to open the reporter's box with a master key, rummage through it, and fax the private letters to the Stadtpolizei," Microsoft said in the brief.

The German government could argue in that hypothetical case that it did not conduct an extraterritorial search, but ordered a German company to produce its own business records, which were in its own possession, Microsoft said. Meanwhile, the American reporter's privacy interests would be fully protected because the Stadtpolizei secured a warrant from a neutral magistrate, it said.

However, the U.S. Secretary of State would be outraged by this attempt to bypass formal procedures that the EU and the U.S. have agreed on, Microsoft said. "No way would that response satisfy the U.S. Government," it said in the court filing.

The case at issue is a digital version of this scenario, Microsoft said, adding that the power to embark on unilateral law enforcement incursions into a foreign sovereign country has profound foreign policy consequences. "Worse still, it threatens the privacy of U.S. citizens."

If the U.S. government prevails here, the U.S. will have no ground to complain when foreign agents raid Microsoft offices in their jurisdictions and order them to download U.S. citizens' private emails, Microsoft said. "That would put all of our private digital information at risk, not just emails, but everything else we store on remote computers collectively called 'the cloud' -- a veritable 'cache of sensitive personal information' saturated with the highest constitutional privacy rights."

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.