Brad Smith
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

A federal judge today ruled that Microsoft must comply with a warrant ordering the company to turn over email account data stored in Dublin, Ireland, marking a second setback for the company in a case that could radically change the U.S. tech industry’s interaction with international users.

Microsoft had appealed a prior decision from a magistrate judge ordering the company to hand over the data, saying that it was an overreach by the Justice Department, and the feds should work with the Irish government to obtain the data.

Today, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska disagreed with that assessment.

“This is not an extraterritorial application of United States law,” Preska said, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Legal and Corporate Affairs, said that the company plans to keep fighting the warrant.

“The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court’s decision would not represent the final step in this process,” he said in a statement provided to GeekWire via email. “We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people’s email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world.”

As the tenor of Smith’s comments implies, Microsoft probably won’t back down from this fight any time soon. The outcome of this decision could have far-reaching implications for tech companies in the U.S. who want to serve international customers. After all, customers might be more skeptical of storing their data with Microsoft or other services if they know that the DoJ can get access to the data without going through their local government.

Smith told an audience in San Francisco last month that governments are already skeptical of U.S. tech companies, especially following revelations about NSA spying from Edward Snowden. In his view, the U.S. needs to back off this warrant and similar moves in order to keep domestic tech companies competitive around the world.

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  • Patrick Husting

    My question would be, “Why do you need the emails in the first place?” That whole system for managing a persons privacy at Microsoft is pretty complex task and not the easiest thing to query.

  • Dave

    Microsoft’s position on this is admirable but seems very unlikely to win. Otherwise, the defense to every warrant served on a company with international operations will be “not stored in the US”. At least a warrant means the government has probably cause (unless it is a FISA warrant, in which case no one knows because everything is secret). But generally if you have the information or control the information, you generally have to provide the information in response to a warrant regardless of where you have it kept.

    The real issue is how much electronic information government is allowed to have access to.

    • Kary

      I would agree. If this were just an ordinary person ordered to turn something over (e.g. Mastro in his bankruptcy case), he could not just say he won’t turn something over because it is in another country. If the court has jurisdiction over the entity, it can order the entity to do things.

    • Kary

      I would add that the second part of their argument about losing business isn’t much better. Could US banks be going in and saying they shouldn’t have to release information because doing so means they will lose business to Swiss and Camen Island banks?

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