Microsoft has been found in contempt of court after refusing to hand over foreign held email data to the US government. The software giant was held in contempt of court this week after it failed to comply with the warrant following a rejection for a request of appeal on July 31.
According to Windows IT Pro, Judge Loretta Preska, the chief of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled on July 31 that Microsoft was required to hand over email messages stored in an Ireland data center to US prosecutors investigating a criminal case. However, she suspended the order temporarily amid complaints from international companies—and tech companies in the US—that argued that allowing US authorities to search and seize data held internationally was illegal. Unfortunately, the order suspension was short-lived, she lifted that suspension after prosecutors successfully convinced her that her order was not appealable. The removal of the suspension legally requires Microsoft to hand over the email immediately.
However, Microsoft has refused to comply, which has led to the company being held in contempt of court. Fortunately, this has not led to any further action against the company. No Microsoft officials are being jailed, but rather the company is simply buying time to get the case into appeals. Microsoft has said they will not turn over the email data to the government as it is a breach of privacy and illegal due to the fact the data is held in Ireland.
IT Pro Portal notes that Microsoft is taking a step to support consumer privacy against an increasingly intrusive government.
Microsoft said in a statement,
“Microsoft believes you own your email no matter where it is stored. That’s why we’ve gone to court to ask the US government to follow long-established, internationally agreed upon processes to obtain email it is seeking as evidence in a case involving a customer account in Ireland.”
Microsoft also notes that if they hand over the email data that is being held in a data storage unit in Dublin, Ireland, they will be treading on Ireland’s sovereignty as US search warrants should not be enforced overseas. Microsoft is the first data giant to refuse to hand over email data to the government. However, they are hoping to make enough waves to set a standard of consumer protection going forward.
Though Microsoft has not faced any legal sanctions or penalties at the moment, the Obama administration said in a letter filed with a New York court that Microsoft could face penalties in the future for their failure to comply with the court order.
Note that unlike Microsoft, Facebook recently gave up data for 38,000 users to 74 governments that asked.
What do you think? Is Microsoft paving the way to improved consumer privacy by defying the court order or do you think the data will eventually be handed over? Is it legal for the US government to demand overseas email data from American held companies?