updated 06:43 pm EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Department of Justice warrant to obtain emails valid, judge gives Microsoft chance to appeal
A United States District Court judge ruled today that a warrant issued to Microsoft requesting emails stored in Dublin, Ireland is valid. The judge stated that the company must follow the order to produce emails involved in a criminal investigation, in spite of foreign law. The order was temporarily stayed to give Microsoft the opportunity to appeal through the Second United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
US District Judge Loretta Preska heard the case in New York, after Microsoft challenged the warrant issued by a judge in December. Microsoft filed a brief, obtained by CNet, in June to state their objection at the warrant, asking that content stored in another country be turned over to the government. Judge Preska agreed with the previous magistrate judge involved in the two-hour hearing.
"It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information," said Preska in the bench ruling. She added that it isn't an "extraterritorial application of United States law."
The software company believes that additional steps need to be taken to retrieve the email in order to comply with international laws. According to Microsoft, provisions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act didn't extend to areas outside of the United States. It also argued that Congress hasn't "authorized the issuance of warrants that reach outside US territory."
Microsoft believes that the request should be funneled through the Irish government to be properly obtained. Several companies and organizations came to the aid of Microsoft, including Verizon and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"The government cannot seek, and a court cannot issue, a warrant allowing federal agents to break down the doors of Microsoft's Dublin facility," said Microsoft. "Likewise, the government cannot conscript Microsoft what it has no authority itself to do -- i.e., execute a warranted search abroad."
Judge Preska's decision was based not on conflicts with international law, but the assertion that companies with operations in the US need to comply with the country's laws. It isn't about where the email is located, but rather that the company can produce the email on its own. Preska said she would stay the order for the time being to allow Microsoft to appeal.
Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft, declared in a statement to the Wall Street Journal that the ruling wouldn't be the final part of the case.
"The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court's decision would not represent the final step in this process," said Smith. "We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the US and around the world."