A year-long battle between Microsoft and the United States Department of Justice has begun to draw international attention as Ireland and Europe weigh in on the validity of a search warrant issued for data housed in an Irish data center in Dublin.
Microsoft has been fighting a warrant obtained by the DOJ last year from a U.S. court under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The DOJ — as well as U.S. courts — claim that the warrant is sufficient to force Microsoft to hand over data stored on its server in Ireland. Microsoft, a host of other big tech companies, and now Ireland disagree.
Earlier this year, a group of tech giants like Cisco and Verizon signed briefs disputing the legal authority of the warrant, claiming that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over a company’s data stored in another country even if the company in question is American. The Irish government has now issued an amicus brief in support of Microsoft, while admitting that existing contracts between Ireland and the U.S. technically allow for the sharing of data. The brief says:
Ireland has a genuine and legitimate interest in potential infringements by other states of its sovereign rights with respect to its jurisdiction over its territory…Ireland does not accept any implication that it is required to intervene into foreign court proceedings to protect its sovereignty. Second, Ireland continues to facilitate cooperation with other states, including the United States, in the fight against crime and, in this regard, Ireland and the United States are parties to a treaty addressing the subject of this appeal.
Jan Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament, has also issued an amicus brief with a pointed message for U.S. courts:
European citizens are highly sensitive to the differences between European and U.S. standards on data protection. Such concerns are frequently raised in relation to the regulation of cross-border data flows and the mass-processing of data by U.S. technology companies. The successful execution of the warrant at issue in this case would extend the scope of this anxiety to a sizeable majority of the data held in the world’s data centers outside the U.S. (most of which are controlled by U.S. corporations) and would thus undermine the protections of the EU data protection regime, even for data belonging to an EU citizen and stored in an EU country.
This case is a critical one for setting a precedent for data ownership and the jurisdiction of countries over their data housed overseas. As support for Microsoft mounts on a global scale, all eyes will be on U.S. courts and the DOJ as they consider their next moves.