Microsoft picked up new momentum today in a domestic case regarding the disclosure of information stored on the company’s servers in Ireland. Both the Irish government and a member of the European parliament filed amicus briefs in the company’s favor, contrary to the legal interpretation of the United States government.
Having Ireland on its side will certainly help Microsoft, though to what extent isn’t clear now, and may not become clearer in the future.
The U.S. government wants Microsoft to turn over internationally stored customer data — it isn’t clear if the information belongs to an Irish citizen, or a person of different nationality — under the authority of a normal warrant. In short, it wants to command data saved abroad, with what is essentially local law.
At issue is that if nations can command companies that are headquartered in their territory to turn over data from any of their international data centers, then government will have far freer reign to demand, and even command, data about global citizens, given the ubiquity of the cloud.
The Irish government makes a trio of points, perhaps most important among them being the contention that it is willing to “apply” the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) in the case at hand. In short, there are ways for the U.S. government to likely get the information that it desires without forcing Microsoft to obey a local warrant abroad. The MLAT is the standard way data requests are made across borders.
In a short release, Dara Murphy, the country’s Minister for Data Protection, said the following about the brief:
The right of individuals to the protection of their personal data is an essential foundation for modern society and the growing digital economy. We must ensure that individuals and organisations can have confidence in the rules and processes that have been put in place to safeguard privacy
Microsoft has challenged and lost to the U.S. government repeatedly in court. The company was even held in contempt at one point.
If Microsoft fails, it could cause headwinds for U.S.-based tech companies that sell cloud-based services. The citizens of other countries might not enjoy the idea that they have little privacy from this government. As such, they may choose a local provider, which may better protect their privacy.