Microsoft wins landmark appeal over seizure of foreign emails

Thu Jul 14, 2016 6:44pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday said the U.S. government cannot force Microsoft Corp and other companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.

The 3-0 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan is a defeat for the U.S. Department of Justice and a victory for privacy advocates and for technology companies offering cloud computing and other services around the world.

Circuit Judge Susan Carney said communications held by U.S. service providers on servers outside the United States are beyond the reach of domestic search warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law.

"Congress did not intend the SCA's warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially," she wrote. "The focus of those provisions is protection of a user's privacy interests."

Microsoft had been challenging a warrant seeking emails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland, in a narcotics case.

It was believed to be the first U.S. company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country.

Thursday's decision reversed a July 2014 ruling by then-Chief Judge Loretta Preska of U.S. district court in Manhattan requiring Microsoft to turn over the emails. It also voided a contempt finding against the company.

"We obviously welcome today's decision," Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said in a statement.   Continued...

 
A Microsoft logo is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson