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Microsoft Enters Battle for Data Protection
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Summary: Microsoft takes on the government again over their desire to access customer accounts regardless of the location of the data.

The big question of whom can obtain digital information and where the information is held is facing off in the courts today. Microsoft is taking on the Justice Department after they requested emails from an account managed by Microsoft even though the emails are held in a server in Ireland. Apple already faced off with the FBI earlier this year over what is considered protected data.


The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan pushed back against the Justice Department in their effort to obtain the emails. They had secured a warrant under a Stored Communications Act provision to gain access to the Microsoft customer’s emails that happened to be stored on a server in Dublin. For this reason, Microsoft refused to turn over the emails because they were outside the country and the warrant only applied to materials held in the United States.

Read Apple Gets One Win for iPhone Privacy.

The issue companies like Microsoft and Apple are dealing with relates to a 30-year-old technology law. Blame is now being put on Congress for failing to take on the problem and update the law to today’s standards of use and storage. The Supreme Court has been making it clear over the past few years that American laws apply only to the country unless Congress makes it clear that they extend farther.

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The main issue falls on the fact that it was Microsoft’s choice to keep the information on a server that happened to be outside the country, not the customer’s willful actions to keep the information outside the United States. Judge Gerard E. Lynch of the Second Circuit made in clear that the decision was based on the outdated law not by Congress’s intent. He said, “there is no evidence that Congress has ever weighed the costs and benefits of authorizing court orders of the sort at issue in this case” mainly because the issue didn’t exist in 1986 when the law was created. Cloud storage has made it so one email can be broken apart and stored in multiple places across the globe.

See Microsoft’s Fight with Department of Justice Could Change Privacy Laws.

Lynch concluded, “I believe even more strongly that the statute should be revised, with a view to maintaining and strengthening the act’s privacy protections, rationalizing and modernizing the provisions permitting law enforcement access to stored electronic communications and other data where compelling interests warrant it, and clarifying the international reach of those provisions.”

Do you think companies should be required to turn over their customer’s private information when the information is outside the country? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about the case, read Microsoft Claims Location Not Ownership Protects Customers Emails.



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