Microsoft calls ruling a “victory for privacy”

An appeals court has ruled that the US government cannot force Microsoft to hand over emails stored outside of the country.

Microsoft calls ruling a “victory for privacy”

The ruling relates to a specific drugs investigation, where US authorities wanted the technology company to surrender data stored in Ireland. In 2014 a judge ruled that Microsoft would have to grant access to the emails – a decision Microsoft subsequently launched an appeal against. On Thursday the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of Microsoft.

Microsoft had previously argued that being forced to hand over overseas data would lead to a “global free-for-all”, with countries outside the US applying their own search warrants to data centres inside the US. The potential for states to reach across borders and access personal data raised concerns not only within Microsoft, but also with a number of privacy advocate groups.

Thursday’s ruling was therefore held up by Microsoft as a “major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments”.

“The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries; it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain; and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs,” wrote Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, in a statement.

Smith went on to thank 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, 35 computer scientists, and the government of Ireland, for supporting the company’s appeal.


“The US Court’s decision has upheld the right to individual privacy in the face of the US State’s intrusion into personal liberty,” commented Myles Jackman, the legal director of UK-based digital right advocacy organisation, Open Rights Group. “As a consequence, US law enforcement agencies must respect European citizens’ digital privacy rights and the protection of their personal data.”

According to the BBC, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has said it was disappointed in the ruling, and was considering its next move. If it decides to appeal, the case could be passed onto the US Supreme Court. The DoJ argues that international cloud storage provides a safe haven for criminals.

“Lawfully accessing information stored by American providers outside the United States quickly enough to act on evolving criminal or national security threats […] is crucial,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice.

Lead image: Bhupinder Nayyar

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