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Ireland: Hey, you. America. Hands off Microsoft's email cloud servers


The Irish government today supported Microsoft in its ongoing fight against US prosecutors – who appear to want access to server hard drives anywhere in the world.

Microsoft has garnered serious backing from the technology industry in its case against American investigators. The Feds believe they have the right to access emails stored on Microsoft's servers in Ireland; Uncle Sam thinks it can lawfully tap up any US company for information, regardless of where that info is stored.

The Feds wants the messages to prosecute a drug case, and obtained a simple search warrant served against Microsoft in New York, rather than approaching the Irish government and its courts for help. If the US govt wins the case, which is being played out in the aforementioned state, it will effectively mean that Microsoft's cloud data stored around the world can be read at will by US g-men.

Now the Irish government has filed an amicus curiae brief [PDF] supporting Microsoft's position. If the US government wants information on servers overseas, it should go through existing treaties rather than just expecting to snatch the bytes with a US-issued search warrant.

"Ireland does not accept any implication that it is required to intervene into foreign court proceedings to protect its sovereignty," reads the filing.

"Ireland continues to facilitate cooperation with other states, including the United States, in the fight against crime and would be pleased to consider, as expeditiously as possible, a request under the treaty, should one be made."

The Irish government's statement was accompanied by a similar brief from Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German member of the European Parliament. Albrecht, who is vice-chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, reinforced the message that the US can't expect to get what it wants without working though established procedures.

"Since Ireland hosts many datacenters operated by corporate groups whose headquarters are located in the United States, the present case is relevant for a gigantic volume of data held on behalf millions of EU citizens," he wrote [PDF].

"One of the protections is that the data will not be transferred to a country outside the EU unless the recipient has in place safeguards to ensure that the data will receive equivalent protection to that which it is afforded in the EU. Under these provisions the transfer by Microsoft of the content of the email account from Ireland to the United States is not permitted by EU law."

Microsoft has made it clear that it will fight the case all the way to the US Supreme Court if necessary. While it has framed this as a privacy argument there's also a strong business case: if the US gets its way, it will kill American cloud businesses, as those customers who don't want US law enforcement snooping though their files on a whim will avoid US companies completely.

"We're also grateful these briefs reiterate the commitments of US allies to being constructive partners with the US, helping to investigate crimes and keep communities safe while respecting privacy as well," added Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, in a blog post. ®

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