A US court has rule that the United States government cannot force Microsoft to give government authorities access to the firm’s servers located in other countries.
The decision, which overturned a court order granted by a Manhattan court in 2014, is currently being analyzed as precedent for protecting the privacy of cloud computing services and the global information they protect from the United States government. The US Department of Justice was seeking access to a server in Ireland as part of an investigation into a case related to illegal narcotics sales. The DOJ has stated that it is disappointed by the decision and is considering its next move. The decision to appeal would bring the case to the US Supreme Court.
Considering the European Union has been busying itself with the creation of new laws that will protect its citizens’ information from snooping US government agencies, the case will likely be celebrated by privacy rights activists around the world.
Microsoft was certainly satisfied with the decision.
“This decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments,” the company said in a statement. “It makes clear that the U.S. Congress did not give the U.S. Government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond U.S. borders.”
“As a global company we’ve long recognized that if people around the world are to trust the technology they use, they need to have confidence that their personal information will be protected by the laws of their own country,” Microsoft concluded, then moved on to thank the many tech companies that had helped back its appeal, which included Amazon, Apple and Cisco.
Among the supporters of Microsoft in this case was the Open Rights Group, a UK-based non-profit organization that campaigns for digital rights.
“The US Court’s decision has upheld the right to individual privacy in the face of the US State’s intrusion into personal liberty,” stated Open Rights Group’s legal director, Myles Jackman. “As a consequence, US law enforcement agencies must respect European citizens’ digital privacy rights and the protection of their personal data.”
“States should not arbitrarily reach across borders just because they feel they can bully companies into doing so,” Myles added.
Microsoft had expressed fears that allowing for the US government to use a search warrant to gain access to Irish servers could lead to a global privacy “free for all” in which other countries could perhaps seek to apply their own search warrants to servers located in the United States.
“The protection of privacy and the needs of law enforcement require new legal solutions that reflect the world that exists today- rather than technologies that existed three decades ago when current law was enacted.”
While law enforcement agencies fear that the development of technology like cloud computing is opening up a safe haven for criminal activity, privacy advocates are just as worried about the continuation of civil rights into the digital era.
Judge Susan Carney ultimately ruled against the Department of Justice given that the Stored Communications Act of 1986 limited the reach of warrants that were applicable outside the US.