Microsoft Loses Email Privacy Case With U.S. Gov, Will Appeal

Microsoft lost an appeal today, as a federal judge ordered that it must comply with a U.S. warrant seeking email data on servers located in Ireland. During this process, it has been Microsoft’s contention that a warrant issued by the U.S. doesn’t have legal standing because the data being sought is stored abroad. Judge Loretta A. Preska disagreed.

It’s not clear whether the person who owns the email being sought by the warrant is a U.S. citizen.

The judge will grant Microsoft time to appeal her ruling, which, the company tells TechCrunch, it will do. This is Microsoft’s second loss on the issue.

In a written statement, Microsoft’s top lawyer Brad Smith stated that the “only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court’s decision would not represent the final step in this process” and that Microsoft “will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people’s email deserves strong privacy protection in the U.S. and around the world.”

Several technology companies voiced support for Microsoft’s suit in the time leading up to today’s appeal — Apple and Cisco filed an amicus brief in Microsoft’s favor. Other companies and groups had also made noise in the same direction as Redmond. Presumably, when Microsoft takes up its case again, those same allies will remain in its corner. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft changes its argument in the face of today’s defeat.

In the light of the recent NSA revelations, expending the effort to protect user privacy is a worthy exercise.

Customers that are not based in the same country as a potential technology vendor may not want their data stored in the other country, given that their status as “foreigners” on that soil could leave them with little legal protection. So they might want their data stored in their own country, or at least in a location where they can have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In this case, Microsoft is working to protect the data of its foreign users from the legal reach of the United States government. If it fails, segregating user data in foreign data centers will leave those users vulnerable, unprotected from the legal arm of the U.S. government, provided that the company storing the data in question is based in the United States.

Microsoft will presumably continue to appeal until it wins or runs out of higher courts. We’ll see which happens first.