Microsoft has drummed up an impressive amount of support in its fight against the American government – which is demanding access to the US giant's servers in Ireland.
Stateside prosecutors are trying to extract emails from systems on non-US soil using a search warrant obtained in a US court, and Microsoft is having none of it. This is the same Microsoft that was apparently praised for its "collaborative teamwork" by the NSA.
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At an event on Monday in New York to mark the first year in Microsoft's battle with Uncle Sam, Redmond's general counsel Brad Smith said the company will not back down: the biz has now filed letters of support for its court appeal from Verizon, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Salesforce, HP, eBay, AT&T, Rackspace and others.
"We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws," he said.
"In contrast, the US Government's unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk."
The ten amicus briefs in support of Microsoft were filed on Monday with the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals: they were written by 28 American tech firms, with support from 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, and 35 computer scientists at the top 20 universities in the land.
The case stems from the issuing of a warrant last December requiring Microsoft to hand over emails and the address book of a customer as part of a federal drug investigation. The information was stored in the firm's Dublin data center and Microsoft refused to hand it over, saying it would be a breach of EU law – something European officials agreed with.
"The effect of the US District Court order is that it bypasses existing formal procedures that are agreed between the EU and the US, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement, that manage foreign government requests for access to information and ensure certain safeguards I terms of data protection," said the European Commissioner for Justice Martine Reicherts, at the time.
"The extraterritorial application of foreign laws (and orders to companies based thereon) may be in breach of international law and may impede the attainment of the protection of individuals guaranteed in the Union."
The US courts disagreed, with New York District Judge James Francis ruling in April that emails were business information rather than personal correspondence. Microsoft had effective control of them and would have to hand them over, he ruled.
In July an appeal court agreed, so Microsoft then asked the judge to hold it in contempt, since it has no intention of handing over the emails unless forced to do so, and has indicated that it will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a video on the case, it warned that the privacy of all emails was at risk because if US g-men claim these rights, then overseas governments will be able to do the same to US customers. The unspoken subtext to this is that the cloud services of US companies will be shunned if users are subject to the whims of US judges.
In their briefs today, the technology firms stated this outright, with Verizon saying tens of billions of dollars of revenue could be lost by American companies if users flock to foreign providers, and, if that happened, then US law enforcement would lose investigative powers. US cloud vendors could also be sued overseas under the ruling.
As a replacement for the current system, Smith called for a change in US law to bring it into line with the email age. States need to work out a decent accommodation with each other rather than the US trying to impose its laws unilaterally on the rest of the world, and Microsoft will keep fighting this issue all the way through the courts, he concluded. ®