On Friday last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis issued a detailed ruling that would force companies like Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) to had over personal information of its users even if that data is stored on servers overseas. Privacy advocacy groups were immediately up in arms following the decision and were calling the judge's decision steeped in "stark contempt" for European citizens while ignoring EU rules on data protection.
The ruling and reaction
"Even when applied to information that is stored in servers abroad, an SCA warrant does not violate the presumption against extraterritorial application of American law," Judge Francis wrote.
The ruling is a result of Microsoft challenging a search warrant where the U.S. government demanded user information from a server in Dublin, Ireland in addition to information stored on servers domestically. Despite its location, the judge ruled that this information was fair game and that Microsoft would have to comply.
“Forcing US companies to turn over data that is held overseas makes citizens in the UK vulnerable to any requests if they use US services,” Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told the Guardian.
“Given what we know about the extent of access to personal data from the Snowden revelations, this can only undermine customers' confidence in US businesses even further. What we already know about surveillance now seems to be true for ordinary policing.”
When the warrant was issued, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) responded with a terse blog post from David Howard, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel.
"Even when applied to information that is stored in servers abroad, an SCA warrant does not violate the presumption against extraterritorial application of American law," he wrote.
“The US government doesn’t have the power to search a home in another country, nor should it have the power to search the content of email stored overseas,” he wrote.
"The US has entered into many bilateral agreements establishing specific procedures for obtaining evidence in another country. We think the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees."
In explaining his ruling, Judge Francis emphasized that the search warrant that was issued was not conventional and consequently has more teeth than a standard warrant.
"It is executed like a subpoena in that it is served on the ISP in possession of the information and does not involve government agents entering the premises of the ISP to search its servers and seize the email account in question," his ruling explained, adding that territorial restrictions might impede law enforcement.
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has every intention of continue to press its case. It's expected that the company will appeal to a higher court.
“This is the first step toward getting this issue in front of courts that have the authority to correct the government’s longstanding views on the application of search warrants to content stored digitally outside the United States,” said Howard.