A legal battle between the U.S. Department of Justice and Microsoft is coming to a head as numerous technology giants and media outlets chime in the latter’s defense. The company has been embroiled in a back-and-forth with the DOJ over whether or not it must answer a warrant calling for Microsoft to hand over user data that is stored in its servers in Ireland.
The DOJ obtained a warrant last year from a U.S. court under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which the court claims is sufficient to force Microsoft to hand over data stored on a server in Ireland. The company has fought this claim to no avail, stating that the warrant is illegal, and that the Act does not extend to data stored outside the U.S. Though the company continues to appeal, the warrant still stands.
Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs for Microsoft wrote in a blog post that ten briefs have been signed by “28 leading technology and media companies, 35 leading computer scientists, and 23 trade associations and advocacy organizations that together represent millions of members on both sides of the Atlantic”. The briefs come from companies including Apple, Salesforce, Verizon, AT&T, and Cisco, and are a rare show of solidarity for user privacy, although their businesses have much at stake here as well. Should users believe that their information is not safe from prying government eyes — something many netizens already believe — even outside the U.S., it could change the minds of potential or current customers.
But this case has broader implications for policies regarding the legal premises for cloud storage and data ownership in the ever-evolving technology world. While Microsoft’s wanted data is technically stored outside of the U.S., the legal future for companies that store data in the cloud remains murky. Raising the questions: what jurisdiction does information stored virtually fall into? And is there a case for American companies to move user data offshore so that it remains outside U.S. jurisdiction?
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s N.S.A. leaks, some countries attempted to answer some of these questions, but with impractical solutions. Brazil President Dilma Rousseff championed a measure that would have required U.S. companies to build data centers in Brazil in which they would store Brazilian user data. This mandate failed to pass into legislation, but was an example of the global knee jerk reaction to the unveiling of the U.S. government’s data-culling tactics.
For now, the plot is set to thicken further as Microsoft wrestles with the American judicial branch. The case will be one to watch as the result could change the way many tech bigwigs do business.