A US Judge has ordered Microsoft to turn over customer’s emails and other account information stored in an Ireland data centre to the US Government, a move which has drawn concern from privacy groups and major technology companies.
Microsoft and other US companies had challenged the warrant, arguing it improperly extended the authority of federal prosecutors to seize customer information held in foreign countries.
In the landmark case District Judge Loretta Preska ruled that Microsoft was required to comply with a US law enforcement search warrant and to hand over the data regardless of where it was stored.
"It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information," Preska said.
Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith argued that well-established case law dictated that a search warrant cannot reach beyond US shores.
The judge said she would temporarily suspend her order from taking effect to allow Microsoft to appeal her decision.
The case appears to be the first in which a corporation has challenged a US search warrant seeking data held abroad.
A number of technology companies filed court briefs in support of Microsoft's position, including Apple, Cisco and Verizon.
The companies are worried that they could lose billions of dollars in revenue to foreign competitors if customers fear their data is subject to seizure by US investigators anywhere in the world.
Thursday ruling concerns a search warrant served on Microsoft by prosecutors for a customer whose emails are stored in a data centre Dublin, Ireland.
It is unclear which agency issued the warrant because the warrant and all related documents are sealed.
The technology companies argued that US search warrants cannot be executed overseas under the law.
But lawyers for the US Justice Department said the warrant only required the company to provide documents it controls, just as US banks can be forced to hand over transaction records held in foreign countries.