A US judge has ordered Microsoft to hand over overseas data back to US, in contradiction to the privacy rights of EU subsidiaries. The case focuses specifically on data stored in Microsoft’s Dublin-based data centre, but the potential ramifications are huge. If upheld, the ruling would set a precedent meaning any US companies with users abroad- think Facebook, Twitter, Google…- are not exempt from handing over information on their overseas customers to the US government.
US District Judge Loretta Preska handed down the ruling, following the logic that US data giants still control the data they hold overseas, and therefore that data is still subject to US law. “It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information,” Preska stated. She also stated the ruling will be stayed to allow Microsoft to appeal the decision to an appeals court.
Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith does not share Preska’s sentiments. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, he argued the US government “can’t force American tech companies to turn over customer emails stored exclusively in company data centers in other countries.”
He continued: “Microsoft believes you own emails stored in the cloud, and that they have the same privacy protection as paper letters sent by mail. This means, in our view, that the U.S. government can obtain emails only subject to the full legal protections of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.”
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The ruling comes at a time when Europe are preparing to beef up their data protection laws. The new proposals seek to protect data stored in Europe but owned by enterprises outside the EU being subject to external scrutiny for law enforcement or intelligence purposes. European authorities have repeatedly stressed that in their view, EU-based subsidiaries fall under EU law. If the US law stands, this will put the two authorities in gridlock- upholding the legal requirements of institution will mean breaking the laws of the other.
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