San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has urged a federal court to block a U.S. search warrant ordering Microsoft to turn over a customer's emails held in an overseas server, arguing that the case has dangerous privacy implications for Internet users everywhere.

The case started in December of last year, when a magistrate judge in New York signed a search warrant seeking records and emails from a Microsoft account in connection with a criminal investigation. However, Microsoft determined that the emails the government sought were on a Microsoft server in Dublin, Ireland. Because a U.S. judge has no authority to issue warrants to search and seize property or data abroad, Microsoft refused to turn over the emails and asked the magistrate to quash the warrant. But the magistrate denied Microsoft's request, ruling there was no foreign search because the data would be reviewed by law enforcement agents in the U.S.

Microsoft appealed the decision. In an amicus brief in support of Microsoft, EFF argues the magistrate's rationale ignores the fact that copying the emails is a "seizure" that takes place in Ireland.

"The Fourth Amendment protects from unreasonable search and seizure. You can't ignore the 'seizure' part just because the property is digital and not physical," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "Ignoring this basic point has dangerous implications – it could open the door to unfounded law enforcement access to and collection of data stored around the world."

The government has argued that allowing a U.S. judge to order the collection of data stored abroad is necessary, because international storage would make it easy for U.S. Internet companies to avoid complying with search warrants. But Microsoft asserts that the government's legal theory could hurt U.S. technology companies that are trying to do business internationally. Additionally, EFF argues in its amicus brief that the government's approach hurts Internet users globally, as it would allow the U.S. to obtain electronic records stored abroad without complying with mutual assistance treaty obligations or other nations' own laws.

"Microsoft is doing the right thing by pushing back here. It's great to see a tech giant fighting for its customers," said Fakhoury.

For the full brief in this case:


Hanni Fakhoury
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation