Technology users are celebrating a major victory recently won for them by the Microsoft company. In an age in which user rights and privacy are all too often not respected by technology companies, Microsoft is rallying for the user.

An Irish appeals court was blocked from issuing a federal warrant looking to seize email from one of Microsoft’s servers in the country. The decision was handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Privacy Rights

Debate Around Emails, Data Storage and Jurisdiction Has Been Heated

Irish investigators were initially trying to enforce a warrant to examine the contents of email correspondence related to a criminal investigation from 2013. This immediately touched off a heated debate regarding data storage and jurisdiction. Exchanges like these between law enforcement and the tech industry have been ongoing since the advent of computers and the internet.

The timing of this ruling was fortuitous in terms of the WPC, Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. At the event, Microsoft’s chief legal officer and president Brad Smith made calls for changes within the internet space that make it a more respectful place in terms of user rights. He rallied for an internet that is “governed by good law,” one that honors and respects the privacy rights of users.

Microsoft was extremely pleased with the Irish ruling to invalidate the warrant and block the seizure of emails from their servers. They cited three major reasons why this decision was so crucial:

1. It ensures privacy rights of individuals are protected within their own countries.

2. It extends the legal protections of the “real” world to the digital realm.

3. It opens the door for more ideal solutions that address both law enforcement requirements and user privacy.

This most recent successful appeal was upheld by three judges sitting on a panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit. The warrant had been upheld previously in April of 2014. Microsoft appealed this result in late 2014 after their attorneys were almost cited for contempt of court during a procedural dispute.

In turn, Microsoft sued the Department of Justice while publicly acknowledging the need for cloud providers to make more steps to earn consumer trust. This is especially true in the U.S., where breaches of privacy have risen sharply in recent years.

The court ultimately ruled that a subsection of the Stored Communications Act says that courts are not authorized to enforce or issue U.S. service provider warrants for the seizure of e-mail stored only on foreign servers.

Upholding the Spirit and Letter of the Law

The judges stated that Congress didn’t intend for SCA warrant provisions to apply in other territories. The focus of the provisions is, instead, the protection of user privacy. The SCA also doesn’t authorize U.S. courts to enforce or issue these warrants against U.S.‐based service providers for e-mails that are stored on non-U.S. based servers. Additionally, the ruling indicated Microsoft has produced “non-content information” stored within the United States.

Lobby group representatives from major companies and organizations were all in support of Microsoft’s position. The i2Coalition, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Apple, Amazon, Rackspace, Cisco, Verizon and Hewlett-Packard were behind the ruling. The European Parliament was also supportive.

While it is likely the government will appeal the appellate decision, this development is a win for technology users concerned about privacy. Microsoft’s WPC statements calling for more user privacy rights indicate that the software giant intends to continue its user advocacy efforts.

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