Microsoft wins U.S. appeal over warrant for emails held abroad

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A Microsoft logo is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A Microsoft logo is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 14, 2016.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

A federal appeals court on Thursday said Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and other companies cannot be forced to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States, handing a victory to privacy advocates.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed a 2014 lower court order directing Microsoft to comply with a warrant to turn over to the U.S. government the contents of a customer’s email account stored on an Irish server. It also voided a finding of contempt against Microsoft.

Circuit Judge Susan Carney said warrants issued under the federal Stored Communications Act reach only data stored within the United States, and that U.S. service providers cannot be forced to comply with warrants seeking data stored elsewhere.

Microsoft had been the first U.S. company challenging a warrant seeking data held outside the country.

It had warned that enforcing its warrant could spark a “global free-for-all” that eviscerated personal privacy, and prompt law enforcement authorities elsewhere to seize emails belonging to Americans and stored in the United States.

The case has attracted strong interest from the technology and media sectors. Nearly 100 companies, organizations and individuals had filed briefs supporting Microsoft, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O), Gannett Co (GCI.N) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N).

The warrant in question had sought emails stored on a server in Dublin in connection with a narcotics case.

The case is In the Matter of a Warrant to Search a Certain E-mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corp, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-2985.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)