Despite a federal court order directing Microsoft to turn overseas-held email data to federal authorities, the software giant said Friday it will continue to withhold that information as it waits for the case to wind through the appeals process. The judge has now ordered both Microsoft and federal prosecutors to advise her how to proceed by next Friday, September 5.
Let there be no doubt that Microsoft's actions in this controversial case are customer-centric. The firm isn't just standing up to the US government on moral principles. It's now defying a federal court order.
"Microsoft will not be turning over the email and plans to appeal," a Microsoft statement notes. "Everyone agrees this case can and will proceed to the appeals court. This is simply about finding the appropriate procedure for that to happen."
Judge Loretta Preska, the chief of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled on July 31 that Microsoft was required to hand over email messages stored in an Ireland data center to US prosecutors investigating a criminal case. But she suspended the order temporarily amid complaints from international companies—and tech companies in the US—that argued that allowing US authorities to search and seize data held internationally was illegal.
On Friday, however, she lifted that suspension after prosecutors successfully convinced her that her order was not appealable. The removal of the suspension legally requires Microsoft to hand over the email immediately.
This is the first time a technology company has resisted a US search warrant seeking data that is held outside the United States.
In the view of Microsoft and many legal experts, federal authorities have no jurisdiction over data stored outside the country. It says that the court order violates Ireland's sovereignty and that prosecutors need to seek a legal treaty with Ireland in order to obtain the data they want.
Judge Preska of course feels differently, and she has consistently agreed with the prosecution argument that the physical location of email is irrelevant because Microsoft controls the data from its base in the United States.
Of perhaps more importance is the faith and trust of Microsoft's customers from around the world. Like other technology companies that are pushing cloud services, Microsoft has been negatively impacted by reports about US governmental spying and its ability to seize data stored in cloud datacenters. It has asked governments from around the world to stop these practices and respect privacy rights. And as its faced resistance on that front, Microsoft has grown increasingly more suspicious of governmental requests for data.