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Appeal Over Seizure of Foreign Emails Won by Microsoft

Appeal Over Seizure of Foreign Emails Won by Microsoft
Customer emails stored on servers outside the United States cannot be forced to be turn over by the U.S. government on companies like Microsoft Corp and other, a federal appeals court ruled recently.
Noting a victory for privacy advocates and for technology companies offering cloud computing and other services around the world and a defeat for the U.S. Department of Justice, the ruling came via a 3-0 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
Domestic search warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law would not apply for communications held by U.S. service providers on servers outside the United States and are beyond the reach such search warrants, said Circuit Judge Susan Carney.

"Congress did not intend the SCA's warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially. The focus of those provisions is protection of a user's privacy interests," she wrote.
A warrant seeking emails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland, in a narcotics case had been challenged by Microsoft. That challenge was believed to be the first to have been done by any U.S. company with respect to a domestic search warrant that sought data held outside the country.
Microsoft was ordered to turn over the emails in an order ruing that was passed by a July 2014 ruling by then-Chief Judge Loretta Preska of U.S. district court in Manhattan and the latest decision reversed it. It also voided a contempt finding against the company.
"We obviously welcome today's decision," Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said in a statement.
He said that the decision helps ensure that "legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain" and rather than worry about foreign interference, gives people more confidence to rely on their own countries' laws to protect their privacy.
The agency was disappointed by the decision and reviewing its legal options, said Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman.
Amid concern that giving prosecutors expansive power to collect data outside the country could make it harder for U.S. companies to compete there, the case has attracted strong interest from the technology and media sectors.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Inc, Apple Inc, Cisco Systems Inc, CNN, Fox News Network, Gannett Co and Verizon Communications Inc. are among the dozens of companies, organizations and individuals who had lend support to Microsoft's appeal.
Greg Nojeim, senior counsel with the nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C., said in an interview that "it would have been like the Wild West, with no clear, stable legal rules applying" had the court gone the other way.
Since the U.S. law did not apply in Dublin, the warrant could not reach emails on the server there, Microsoft had said.
Law enforcement authorities elsewhere might seize emails belonging to Americans and stored in the United States and enforcing the warrant could spark a global "free-for-all,", said the Redmond, Washington-based company.
Quashing warrants such as Microsoft's would impede their own law enforcement efforts argued federal prosecutors.
"The interest of comity" that normally governs cross-border criminal investigations would be served by limiting the reach of warrants, noted Judge Carney.


Christopher J. Mitchell

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