In a decision that could have broad privacy implications, a federal court in New York Thursday ordered Microsoft to comply with a U.S. government demand for a customer’s emails stored on a company server in Dublin, Ireland. The decision upholds an earlier magistrate court decision.
In an oral ruling, District Court Judge Loretta Preska rejected Microsoft’s argument that a U.S search warrant does not extend beyond the country’s borders.
“The production of that information is not an intrusion on the foreign sovereign,” Courthouse News reported Judge Preska as saying. “It is incidental at best,” Preska noted, adding that the magistrate court order was not an extra territorial application of U.S. law.
I liked this response in the comments:
So does this ruling mean that the Syrian government, for example, could force U.S. companies to turn over the email records of human rights activists in the United States, even if their messages are stored on servers located in the U.S.?
What about the Chinese government forcing Google to turn over the records of U.S. companies, even if these records are located on servers within the United States?
This ruling, if allowed to stand, opens a Pandora’s box of allowing foreign governments access to U.S. business’ and individual’s records, even if this data is stored in the U.S. After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Another thing I wonder about is what about the case of a company that doesn’t have a physical presence in the U.S. Suppose it was a U.K. company with a Hotmail type service and a U.S. customer. Would the U.S. government claim it had jurisdiction to force the U.K. company to turn over the email? The U.S. government has “twisted arms” such that Switzerland and other countries with strong banking privacy polices have submitted to U.S. demands for the banking records of U.S. citizens. I suspect the U.S. will or is doing similar things in the case of email.
Our government is way out of control.
I’m glad Microsoft is the one fighting this rather than some small business that can’t afford to spend millions on lawyers to fight it.