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Microsoft's top legal eagle: US cannot ignore foreign privacy laws

Battle with Feds continues as MS refuses to hand over emails stored in Ireland

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Microsoft's top legal eagle is standing firmly against the US government's attempts to force it to hand over users' data stored outside the US.

In a blog post, Microsoft’s general counsel and exec veep Brad Smith said that he believes the law is on the company's side as it resists attempts to force it to turn over a customer’s email stored in an Irish data centre.

The warrant was issued in the US in December 2013. Despite the tech behemoth’s appeal, it was upheld in July 2014 on the grounds that the location of the data was immaterial since Microsoft had "control" over it.

However, Smith wrote: “Law enforcement needs to be able to do its job, but it needs to do it in a way that respects fundamental rights, including the personal privacy of people around the world and the sovereignty of other nations.”

The Irish government, which filed an amicus brief in the case, believes its sovereignty has been trampled on because the US warrant attempted to circumvent a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty which would have involved the Irish authorities.

Calling for a reform of the US laws – the US Electronics Communications Privacy Act is almost 30 years old – Microsoft’s legal counsel said any new law “must respect the sovereignty of other countries and the fundamental human rights and online privacy of all users – they cannot be a blunt instrument to seek unilateral and unfettered access to information.”

He added that there are precedents that limit the government’s reach from extending beyond US borders.

Smith further claimed that “there’s no indication that Congress intended to expand the geographic reach of search warrants when the statute was written in 1986, long before the dawn of the era of cloud computing.”

As well as the Irish government, almost 30 technology companies including Verizon, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Salesforce, HP, eBay, Infor, AT&T and Rackspace, have directly or indirectly (via trade organisations such as the Business Software Alliance, the Application Developers Alliance, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers) weighed in on the side of Microsoft. Civil liberties organisations, 17 news and media outfits, and 35 science professors have added their voices. Even a Member of the European Parliament has supported the tech giant. ®

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