Microsoft wins Ireland cloud data-grab case against US Department of Justice

Microsoft wins Ireland cloud data-grab case against US Department of Justice

Court split keeps Microsoft's foreign cloud data out of US government hands - for the time being

By Dave Neal 25 January 2017

Microsoft has won the latest round in its long-running legal battle with the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which is demanding that the company hand over data stored in a Microsoft data centre located in Ireland.

The case relates to a suit the DoJ first filed against Microsoft in 2013 that suggested that because Microsoft is a US company, it had a legal right to request data from it stored in Ireland.

Fearing that a DoJ win would have implications for cloud computing, Microsoft challenged the decision. While the case was initially found in the DoJ's favour, Microsoft appealed and was successful in a decision handed down last year.

The DoJ sought to appeal against that decision but, Reuters is now reporting that the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals court issued a split 4-4 decision on whether or not to consider an appeal, a decision that means the ruling stands.

The victory for Microsoft will be welcomed by privacy campaigners and the wider US technology market as it will remove the concern for customers that their data could be arbitarily seized by US authorities at any time, even if stored in the European Union.

However, several of the judges said the case underlined the need for US laws to be updated to flesh out the grounds for the US government to make such data grabs in the future.

"We recognise at the same time that in many ways the SCA (the U.S. Stored Communications Act) has been left behind by technology," Judge Susan Carney wrote in Tuesday's decision, Reuters reported.

"It is overdue for a congressional revision that would continue to protect privacy but would more effectively balance concerns of international comity with law enforcement needs and service provider obligations in the global context in which this case arose."

Microsoft has yet to comment on the decision.

Caspar Bowden, Microsoft's former privacy officer, had suggested that it might be desirable for Microsoft to lose the case.

In an interview with Computing, he suggested that a loss would stimulate the computer industry to take action, and also force governments across the world to make data-access laws clearer.


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