Microsoft Takes the US Government to Court Over User Emails

The company says that user data stored overseas should not be shared with the US govt

Microsoft is one of the companies that are fighting to protect user data these days, and the firm is now taking the United States government to court, telling the judge that US companies should not be forced to provide access to data stored overseas to local agencies.

In a column in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, reveals that Redmond and the US government will appear in court on Thursday.

“Microsoft believes you own emails stored in the cloud, and that they have the same privacy protection as paper letters sent by mail. This means, in our view, that the U.S. government can obtain emails only subject to the full legal protections of the Constitution’ s Fourth Amendment. It means, in this case, that the U.S. government must have a warrant. But under well-established case law, a search warrant cannot reach beyond U.S. shores,” Smith writes.

It all started in December when US government officials contacted Microsoft and sent them a search warrant in order to access emails of a user who was believed to be involved in a narcotics investigation, Smith explains.

Of course, Microsoft was quick to comply with the requirements, but the company then found out that these emails were actually stored on a data center in Dublin, Ireland, where the company stores information of users outside the United States.

As a result, Redmond actually refused to provide these details, even though it was pretty clear that they were critical for the outcome of the investigation.

The government, however, forced Microsoft to share the details, and this was the moment when the company decided to get to the court to set things straight once and for all.

“The government seeks to sidestep these rules, asserting that emails you store in the cloud cease to belong exclusively to you. In court filings, it argues that your emails become the business records of a cloud provider. Because business records have a lower level of legal protection, the government claims that it can use its broader authority to reach emails stored anywhere in the world,” Smith explains.

Microsoft has explained that the company would comply with requirements coming from the United States government based on a search warrant every time it involves data stored on its local servers, but otherwise, it’s illegal to provide access to information on non-US data centers.

Although there’s no doubt that Microsoft is right this time, the US government apparently does not agree, so it’s up to the judge to decide whether the company should or should not provide access to data stored overseas.

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