Feeds

Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers

They're not emails, they're business records, says court

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Microsoft has lost the first round in its fight to stop the US authorities from seizing customer data stored inside its overseas data centers.

Following a two-hour hearing before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, District Judge Loretta Preska ruled that a US warrant ordering Microsoft to hand over its customers' emails and other data was valid, even though the data in question was stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland.

Redmond had argued that because the data was managed by one of its foreign subsidiaries, local law and not US law should apply. Judge Preska disagreed.

"It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information," she said.

Among US tech companies, Microsoft has been one of the most vocal in opposing US government requests for customer information, particularly where those requests are accompanied by gag orders preventing Redmond from discussing them with the customers in question.

In May, the software giant revealed that it had successfully challenged a so-called National Security Letter issued by the FBI, and it pledged that it would continue to challenge any future such letters demanding data about its enterprise and government customers.

Thursday's hearing involved a case where Microsoft received a search warrant seeking access to one of its European customers' emails as part of a narcotics investigation. Which agency issued the warrant is unknown because all documents related to the matter are sealed.

During the hearing, Redmond argued that under US law a warrant cannot reach beyond US shores, and that to flout this requirement for electronic communications would set a dangerous precedent.

"If the US government prevails in reaching into other countries' data centers, other governments are sure to follow," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

"One already is. Earlier this month the British government passed a law asserting its right to require tech companies to produce emails stored anywhere in the world. This would include emails stored in the U.S. by Americans who have never been to the U.K."

But lawyers for the US Justice Department successfully argued on Thursday that US law already recognizes warrants for certain kinds of foreign-held information, such as financial records stored overseas by US banks. Because Microsoft is a US company and it "controls" the data held in its overseas servers, they reasoned, the same rules apply.

Redmond, on the other hand, contended that emails are the sole property of their recipients, like postal letters, and that as such they deserve greater privacy protections than do business records – an argument that apparently failed to persuade Judge Preska.

Microsoft's Smith issued a brief statement following Thursday's ruling, saying, "The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court's decision would not represent the final step in this process. We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world."

Judge Preska has already agreed to suspend her ruling until Microsoft challenges it in the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
'Hmm, why CAN'T I run a water pipe through that rack of media servers?'
Leaving Las Vegas for Armenia kludging and Dubai dune bashing
'Urika': Cray unveils new 1,500-core big data crunching monster
6TB of DRAM, 38TB of SSD flash and 120TB of disk storage
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
SDI wars: WTF is software defined infrastructure?
This time we play for ALL the marbles
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Oracle hires former SAP exec for cloudy push
'We know Larry said cloud was gibberish, and insane, and idiotic, but...'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.