Microsoft is the victor of a long-drawn out battle with the U.S. government after a federal appeals court said the company cannot be forced to hand over customer e-mails stored in overseas data centers.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan voted 3-0 in favor of Microsoft, effectively leaving the U.S. Department of Justice out in the cold.
Circuit Judge Susan Carney said Microsoft had “the better of the argument,” adding that the data the tech firm has stored on servers outside the U.S. do not fall under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) as the Justice Department intimated.
“We conclude that Congress did not intend the SCA’s warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially. The focus of those provisions is protection of a user’s privacy interests,” the ruling reads. “Accordingly, the SCA does not authorize a U.S. court to issue and enforce an SCA warrant against a United States‐based service provider for the contents of a customer’s electronic communications stored on servers located outside the United States. The SCA warrant in this case may not lawfully be used to compel Microsoft to produce to the government the contents of a customer’s e‐mail account stored exclusively in Ireland. Because Microsoft has otherwise complied with the Warrant, it has no remaining lawful obligation to produce materials to the government.”
The battle began back in December 2013 when the DOJ filed a warrant that said Microsoft must comply with a December warrant to nab a customer’s e-mail account data stored at a center in Dublin, Ireland. The agency said it wanted access to the individual’s e-mails because they were connected with a criminal investigation.
In 2014, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ordered Microsoft to comply with the warrant. When the company refused, it was held in contempt for its failure to comply with the order, although the firm was not fined pending the outcome of the appeal.
Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith said the company is pleased by the appeals court’s ruling.
“We obviously welcome today’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit,” he said. “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.”