A US federal judge in New York has ordered Microsoft to turn over their customersâ€™ emails and other digital content to law enforcement agencies, even in case the data is being stored on servers physically overseas.
New York Magistrate Judge James Francis does not question the cosmopolitan power of a valid search warrant issued by a US law enforcement agency. In a first-of-a-kind court ruling Friday, the judge created a precedent that no US internet provider, be it Microsoft or Google or another company, can refuse an official demand to share foreign clientsâ€™ private data, Reuters reported.
The initial search warrant was issued last December in regards of one of Microsoftâ€™s clients who stored his data on a server run in Dublin, Ireland. An undisclosed US agency sought information that could be found in the personâ€™s email, such as the customer’s name, credit card numbers or bank account used for payment.
Once Microsoft found out that targetâ€™s account was hosted on an Irish server, it refused to comply, pointing out that the US search warrants could not be extended overseas.
But Judge Francis disagreed with the notion, claiming that unlike a â€œtraditionalâ€ search warrant, a warrant seeking digital content is regulated differently, in accordance with the Stored Communications Act federal law.
Judge Francis called an email information warrant a â€œhybridâ€ one, because while it is issued as an ordinary search warrant, it could be executed as a subpoena for documents.
According to US law, a recipient of subpoena must provide the requested information no matter where it is stored.
The judge explained that in case American law enforcement follows a standard legal procedure and files a request to a foreign government for sharing data, â€œthe burden on the [US] government would be substantial, and law enforcement efforts would be seriously impeded.â€
Microsoft disagreed with the decision, pointing out in a statement that â€œa US prosecutor cannot obtain a US warrant to search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States,â€ the company said.
â€œWe think the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees,â€ said Microsoft, which recently promised its foreign customers it would never agree to such requests.
The company promised to â€œassert available jurisdictional objections to legal demands when governments seek this type of customer content that is stored in another country,â€ Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith posted in the companyâ€™s blog.
Microsoft stressed it intends to seek re-examination of the case in a federal district court.
â€œWe respect the critical role law enforcement plays in protecting all of us,â€ Microsoft said, adding that it is not trying to â€œfrustrate any government investigationsâ€ and that the US government â€œshould be able to obtain evidence necessary to investigate a possible crime.â€
â€œWe just believe the government should have to follow the processes it has established for obtaining physical evidence outside the United States,â€ the statement said.
First Published in RT, April 26th, 2014.