Microsoft faces deadline to hand Dublin email data to US government

Microsoft faces a deadline to hand over email data – stored outside the US, in Dublin – to the US government, by 5 September 2014

Microsoft is facing a deadline to hand over email data stored outside the US, in Ireland, to the US government – by 5 September 2014.

US authorities issued a warrant in December 2013 to access emails the US government says it believes to be linked to narcotics trafficking – but the data is stored in Microsoft’s servers in Dublin, Ireland.

US ruling

In July 2014, US federal judge Loretta Preska ruled Microsoft had to comply with the data access request, as a US company in control of the data.

"It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information," Preska ruled.

Action to enforce the order was suspended, pending an appeal. But now Preska has lifted the suspension, saying the ruling is not open to appeal.

Microsoft's response

The judge may hold Microsoft in contempt if it fails to meet the deadline to comply with the order, which could further reduce trust in cloud-based services, reports The Guardian.

Earlier this week, Microsoft issued a statement saying that it did not plan to hand over the email data, citing privacy concerns.

In its initial response to the warrant, Microsoft said the emails belonged to its customers; and that the servers were outside US jurisdiction.

Public loss of trust

Microsoft is among several big US technology firms that have called for surveillance reforms because of concerns that public loss of trust in technology will hurt their businesses.

The company said in a court submission: "the government's position in this case further erodes that trust and will ultimately erode the leadership of US technologies in the global market."

Grounds for appeal

The US government has backed the judge’s suggestion that Microsoft could obtain the legal standing to have the case heard on appeal, if it were to refuse to comply and is found in contempt.

In its statement earlier this week, Microsoft said all sides agreed the case should, and would, go to appeal. “This is simply about finding the appropriate procedure for that to happen,” said the company.

Industry support for Microsoft

Several other technology firms – including Cisco, Apple and Verizon – have come out in support of Microsoft, according to ArsTechnica.

Verizon said a decision favouring US authorities would produce "dramatic conflict with foreign data protection laws".

Apple and Cisco said a ruling against Microsoft would put the US technology sector at risk of sanctions from foreign governments.

UK legislation

In July 2014, the emergency data retention legislation rushed through by the UK government came under fire for attempting to extend the reach of interception powers, to communication content outside the UK.

The controversial Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill was fast-tracked after the prime minister struck a deal with Labour and the Liberal Democrats to support the process in exchange for a list of safeguards and undertakings.

The safeguards include a sunset clause for the legislation; a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa); and a reduction in the number of public bodies permitted to access the data.

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