Apple, Cisco back Microsoft in fight against global email warrant

Apple, Cisco back Microsoft in fight against global email warrant

Summary: US cloud providers rally behind Microsoft's fight against a special electronic warrant that forces it to hand over email stored anywhere in the world.

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Microssoft is challenging a US warrant that orders it to produce email stored at its Dublin datacentre. Image: Microsoft

Apple and Cisco are supporting Microsoft's attempt to throw out a US warrant ordering it to produce email stored in its Irish datacentre.

The pair filed a 'friend of the court' brief last Friday, joining AT&T, Verizon, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in backing Microsoft's Federal Court challenge to the warrant served by a US magistrate judge last December.

In its appeal last week, Microsoft likened the warrant to a court authorising federal agents "to break down the doors" of its Dublin facility and says that if the government wants access to emails in its overseas facilities, they should rely on mutual legal assistance treaties (MLAT).

Apple and Cisco in their joint brief also argue the government should turn to the MLAT between the US and Ireland rather than "place the burden of reconciling conflicting international laws squarely on US providers".

"By disregarding that process, and the laws of the country where data is stored, the magistrate's analysis places providers and their employees at significant risk of foreign sanctions, and threatens a potential loss of customer confidence in US providers generally," Cisco and Apple said.

"It also encourages foreign law enforcement to take reciprocal actions by using equivalent foreign laws to require production of data stored in the United States, despite disclosure prohibitions in US law."

In April, the judge that served the warrant knocked back Microsoft's first attempt to quash it, explaining that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allowed a special type warrant that could order Microsoft to hand over email stored overseas, in part because the "search" itself would actually occur in the US.

The EFF argues, however, that the "seizure" occurs in Ireland and that the US' Fourth Amendment, protecting against unreasonable search and seizure, should apply.

As the magistrate noted at the time, the hybrid warrant was created under the ECPA to limit the disclosure of stored communications and place rules around how government could obtain such data. It was also meant to deal with shortcomings in Fourth Amendment protections for information stored online.

In its brief, Verizon said if the warrant is upheld "it would have huge detrimental impacts on American cloud companies that do business abroad".

However, as Microsoft's deputy general counsel David Howard noted in April, the company is pushing back the "status quo".

Resistance to the class of warrant comes as US cloud providers contend with the fallout from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Cisco chief John Chambers earlier this year warned that US surveillance and laws threatened to harm the entire US sector by undermining trust in their products bought by foreign customers. 

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Topics: Cloud, Apple, Cisco, Legal, Microsoft, Security, EU

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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4 comments
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  • Wow.... I am backing Microsoft.

    Either this case is of extreme importance or the judge in this case has lost his mind. Either way the base of it is simply out-of-line. We live in a global world now not a USA bubble. In no way should a US judge order the seizure of data stored in another country.

    It does put the US justice system at a disadvantage but! we can't compromise the trust of the public because of a small disadvantage. As microsoft states...... use the proper channels and most likely no one would have a problem. Ireland should not be disrespected in this way.
    Levar Berry
    • Disrespect of foreign sovereignty

      The key here is sovereignty...as Levar noted it's a slap in the face of Ireland's sovereignty. If this was a physical painting or murder weapon the US DOJ wouldn't have any authority to get the stuff, why wouldn't the same principal apply to data?
      QuimaxW
      • As the judge isn't in a position...

        ...to justify his order (which we don't actually have), I'll refrain from criticizing him (generic; we don't know the gender). MS is nevertheless right to challenge it in court as the practice of secretly demanding data on servers hosted in foreign countries is proving to be highly injurious to US based cloud providers.

        I don't know if the practice is illegal, but it probably should be.
        John L. Ries
  • However .....

    if the shoe was on the other foot, i.e.; if Irish authorities tried to seize information from from a US data center, it would "hit the fan".
    I have no doubt that authorities from other legitimate countries would willingly cooperate with US officials where criminal activities are involved. Otherwise, the exercise becomes a "fishing expedition" wherein protection to innocent countries/individuals is waived.
    Interesting times indeed.
    da philster