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Aug 12 2014   9:34PM GMT

Another Judge Tells Microsoft, ‘All Your Data Are Belong to Us’

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher


Another judge has told Microsoft that it must release data stored on one of its servers to a U.S. government agency, even though the data in question is outside the U.S., setting the stage for a massive worldwide confrontation on just who has the right to have access to data where.

The agency is unnamed, but the Wall Street Journal identifies it as the Justice Department, and several media reports indicate that the case has something to do with drugs.

This particular ruling is just another stepping stone on the path; according to the New York Times, the judge in question, Judge Loretta A. Preska of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, agreed to an immediate stay pending the next step in the appeals process, meaning nobody has to do anything yet except the lawyers.

And the lawyers are very busy.

“It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information,” Preska said, according to newspaper reports. Because Microsoft could make a copy of the information in the Irish server from the United States, it doesn’t violate Ireland’s sovereignty, she ruled.

“She cited a 1984 case that held that a court may require a company to disclose its business records no matter where in the world they are, and that the disclosure did not require the consent of the country in which they are stored,” writes the Washington Post. “She said that Congress was aware of the 1984 case when it passed [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act], and so the law implicitly authorized the overseas reach.”

Microsoft is the point person here, but in a there-but-for-the grace-of-God-go-I move, several other companies that have worldwide data centers have filed briefs with the court supporting the company, including Apple, AT&T, Cisco, and Verizon, according to the Times and the Guardian, as well as the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Aside from keeping several law firms afloat, the case could have several other ramifications. First, it puts companies in the position of violating either European Union or U.S. law. “All of [this] puts Microsoft in a very difficult position,” explains Forbes. “If they obey the US order then they’re in breach of EU law, if they stick to EU law then they’re going to be in breach of this US order (for however long the order survives the appeals process).”

Second, it could scare worldwide companies away from using U.S. companies’ data centers to store their data, which could have a significant impact on those companies’ finances. Companies are worried they could lose billions of dollars in revenue to foreign competitors if customers fear their data is subject to seizure by US investigators anywhere in the world, the Guardian writes.

Third, it gives other countries the opportunity to come up with reasons why they should have access to data stored in the U.S. based on their laws. The U.K., for example, recently created the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act, which “requires internet and phone companies to collect their customers’ personal communication data, tracking their phone and internet use, and store it for 12 months to give access to the police, security services and up to 600 public bodies on request,” according to the Guardian.

The U.K. government also added a clause making it clear that foreign firms holding data on U.K. citizens can also be served with a warrant to hand over information, the Guardian writes.

Similarly, Microsoft’s attorney said that authorities in China had appeared at Microsoft offices there demanding a password to gain access to material that the company stores in the United States, according to the Associated Press. 

All in all, it has the potential to create a terrible mess.

3  Comments on this Post

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  • Neutrino
    I believe that this is not about where the data is physically stored but where the company has its registered HQ for the holding company. For example the issue isn't that Microsoft is holding data in US data centres but that the Microsoft company registered in Ireland using an Irish data centre still needs to give data to the US courts because Microsoft Holding company is registered in the US and therefore the US legal system can then get the data. This will however force European companies to host their data with European companies with European data centres so that any foreign company and government has no ability to gain access to that data.
    90 pointsBadges:
  • Genderhayes
    Boost your network and storage efficiency and enhance performance cost effective emc
    10,730 pointsBadges:
  • Sharon Fisher
    Neutrino, that's certainly the U.S. government's contention. 
    9,715 pointsBadges:

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