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Judge Orders Microsoft to Turn Over Customer Data Stored Abroad

The case has drawn concern from privacy groups and major technology companies.

Reuters / Pichi Chuang

Microsoft must turn over a customer’s emails and other account information stored in a data center in Ireland to the U.S. government, a judge ruled on Thursday, in a case that has drawn concern from privacy groups and major technology companies.

Microsoft and other U.S. companies had challenged the warrant, arguing it improperly extended the authority of federal prosecutors to seize customer information held in foreign countries.

Following a two-hour court hearing in New York, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said a search warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge required the company to hand over any data it controlled, regardless of where it was stored.

“It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information,” Preska said.

The judge said she would temporarily suspend her order from taking effect to allow Microsoft to appeal her decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case appears to be the first in which a corporation has challenged a U.S. search warrant seeking data held abroad.

A number of technology companies filed court briefs in support of Microsoft’s position, including AT&T, Apple, Cisco Systems and Verizon Communications.

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 U.S. investigators anywhere in the world.

Thursday’s ruling concerns a search warrant served on Microsoft by prosecutors for a customer whose emails are stored in a data center in Dublin, Ireland.

It is unclear which agency issued the warrant because the warrant and all related documents are sealed.

The technology companies argued that U.S. search warrants cannot be executed overseas under the law. But lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said the warrant only required the company to provide documents it controls, just as U.S. banks can be forced to hand over transaction records held in foreign countries.

(Editing by Grant McCool)

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