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Tech and Business Groups Rally Behind Microsoft’s Data Privacy Battle

Google is not among the companies directly backing Microsoft in its fight over foreign data privacy.

Alina Ku-Ku/Shutterstock

Dozens of large tech companies, business groups and consumer privacy advocates offered support Monday in Microsoft’s ongoing court battle with the U.S. government over customer emails stored offshore, arguing that requiring Microsoft to turn them over will prompt consumers to avoid U.S. companies’ cloud-based services.

Verizon Communications, eBay, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among the companies and business groups that filed amicus briefs today in the case, arguing that requiring Microsoft to turn over the records would set an unfortunate international precedent.

“The law does not allow the U.S. government to use a search warrant to obtain customer data stored overseas,” Verizon Executive Vice President Randal Milch wrote in a blog post Monday. “Furthermore, permitting the U.S. government to use a warrant to obtain data stored overseas would just encourage foreign governments to claim that they can obtain data stored in the U.S., which would threaten the privacy of Americans.”

Microsoft doesn’t want to hand over emails stored in Ireland that were sought last December by U.S. law enforcement for a drug-trafficking investigation. The company sued to block the search warrant because the data is stored offshore, saying it effectively amounts to an international seizure of records.

At the heart of the case for Microsoft and its allies is the worry that they’ll lose business because international customers will avoid U.S. tech companies’ cloud-based services. It’s a worry that has also driven efforts by the tech industry to push for an overhaul of the National Security Agency’s mass data collection efforts after the revelations from former contractor Edward Snowden.

Allowing U.S. law enforcement to use a warrant for foreign-stored data would “eviscerate trust in U.S. cloud services providers, hampering U.S. companies’ ability to compete in this market and inflicting serious harm on the U.S. economy,” wrote BSA: The Software Alliance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other industry groups in a brief.

Another concern, tech and media executives say, is that foreign governments will try to seize U.S.-based data. “We have to assume other governments will follow and do the same thing,” said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said Monday. Business groups are also concerned about the government’s assertion that when an email is stored in the cloud “it ceases to be your property alone. It becomes a business record of a tech company,’ Smith said.

Justice Department lawyers have argued that Microsoft shouldn’t be able to avoid a search warrant simply by storing data abroad. Doing so would hurt law enforcement’s ability to gather evidence on potential criminal activities, the government contends.

Government lawyers are scheduled to file a reply to Microsoft and its allies next year.

Microsoft held a splashy event in New York City Monday morning, moderated by retired “Good Morning America” co-host Charlie Gibson, to call attention to the case, which the company has been extensively promoting to the media.

Notably, Microsoft rival Google didn’t file a supportive brief in the case, although it is a financial supporter of two industry groups — i2Coalition and App Developers Alliance — which signed on to one of the industry briefs filed Monday.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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