Microsoft Continues To Resist Drug Email Handover

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Redmond’s Cloud data sovereignty fight with the US government continues, as the two sides return to court

Microsoft is back in court to continue its fight against a demand by US law enforcement that it hands over email records of a customer stored offshore in an Irish data centre.

Microsoft’s battle has gained widespread support from both media organisations such as Fox News, The Guardian, Forbes, CNN, and the Washington Post, as well as its fellow tech rivals such as Apple, Amazon, Salesforce and eBay.

Cloud Data

Microsoft has therefore returned to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to try to reverse a lower court’s ruling that it has to turn over customer email records, despite the fact that the records are stored outside the United States in sovereign country.

Over a year year ago, American prosecutors had issued a search warrant for emails stored by Microsoft in an Irish data centre, in connection with a drug-related investigation.

privacyMicrosoft did compile in that it handed over the customer’s address book, which was stored in data centre within the United States. But it objected to having to hand over the actual email records to US officials, as those were stored overseas, well out of the jurisdiction of any US law enforcement agency.

But in April 2014 a US judge made the order for a search warrant saying that US companies providing Internet services could not refuse valid search warrants for data held overseas.

Another setback happened in July last year, when a US judge set a legal precedent when she ruled that Microsoft must hand over a user’s email account to American legal authorities.

Microsoft was allowed to appeal her decision to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, and this week it is back in court to plead its case.

In May this year, Microsoft also found itself in hot water in Belgium following the company’s refusal to hand over customer data concerning a Skype user to a court in that country.

Microsoft is concerned that a user’s privacy will be violated if US officials can demand anyone’s data, even if they are held far beyond US jurisdiction.

“They think they have already lost quite a lot of business in Europe over monitoring and surveillance concerns, and they are afraid it will get worse if there is a perceived carte blanche for the US authorities to access emails stored abroad,” Carsten Caspar of Gartner was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“The EU has stronger privacy requirements, at least on paper, compared with other parts of the world, so tensions between the US and Europe are highest,” said Caspar. “But other countries are also concerned by US access to foreign records.

Takes Too Long

US officials argue it typically takes months for US officials to get information from foreign governments via the usual data sharing treaty agreements. Search warrants applied to US companies are therefore seen as a much quicker way to get the needed data.

And US officials are reportedly concerned that storing cloud data on where the customer says they live, is open to abuse, as the suspect can falsely claim to be living in one country in order to evade the reach of US law enforcement.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Apple also revealed that it will not comply with a court order to let US government investigators monitor texts sent via its iMessage system.

According to the New York Times, Apple said that its messages are encrypted, and that only the handsets involved in sending the message have the key.

It did admit that some unencrypted messages on iCloud had been passed to US law enforcement.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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