Security Advisor

Microsoft Ordered To Hand Over Overseas Data to U.S. Law Enforcement

A magistrate judge ruled that search warrants for online overseas data do not function in the same manner as warrants for physical data stored out of the U.S.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a U.S. district court judge has ordered that Microsoft must provide customer e-mail data to U.S. law enforcement with a valid search warrant, even though the data is being stored in a Dublin, Ireland-based server.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis in New York said that the company had no claim to challenge the previous search warrant for the customer data and said that warrants for electronic data differs from traditional warrants. ISPs cannot deny law enforcement access to information, even if stored overseas.

"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," wrote Francis in his ruling. "Accordingly, Microsoft's motion to quash in part the warrant at issue is denied."

Further, Francis stated that if law enforcement agencies were forced to coordinate with their foreign counterparts to obtain the data sought after, "...the burden on the government would be substantial, and law enforcement efforts would be seriously impeded."

In response, Microsoft said it disagreed with the magistrate judge and acknowledges that this is just the first step in the company's legal options. David Howard, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for Microsoft said that the next step is to take Microsoft's challenge to a district  and then eventually to a federal court of appeals.

"The U.S. 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," wrote Howard in a blog post.

Howard also disagreed that warrants for digital content should be treated differently and that the same channels law enforcement must go through to obtain physical data stored overseas should extend to data stored in overseas servers. "We just believe the government should have to follow the processes it has established for obtaining physical evidence outside the United States," said Howard.

Microsoft plans to seek review from a federal district judge on Friday.

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