Google ordered to hand over foreign emails to FBI, unlike Microsoft

Google has been told to comply with the FBI and give the agency access to emails stored overseas.

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Google has been ordered by a US judge to comply with FBI search warrants that require access to customer data stored overseas, the exact opposite of a similar case involving Microsoft which closed this year.

On February 3 in Philadelphia, the tech giant was ordered by US Judge Thomas Rueter to retrieve customer emails from servers in data centers abroad in order to comply with search warrants held by the FBI.

According to the judge, transferring emails from a foreign server to US soil caused "no meaningful interference" with the account holder's "possessory interest" in the information sought by law enforcement, as reported by Reuters.

The FBI is seeking the information as part of a domestic fraud court case.

"Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from its multiple data centers abroad has the potential for an invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States," Rueter wrote in his judgment.

The precedent Google mentions is that of Microsoft.

In July last year, Microsoft won a landmark case against US law enforcement seeking customer data stored overseas. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York supported Microsoft -- embroiled in this battle for years -- and reversed a decision which held the Redmond giant in contempt of court for refusing to honor a previous order to hand over the emails in question.

The decision was met with approval from privacy enthusiasts, activists, and technology vendors alike, although in October, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a petition to reopen the case, which was later rejected by a panel of judges in January 2017.

The issue at hand for both companies is the Stored Communications Act, which restricts the disclosure of wire and electronic stored information held by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

While the New York judges involved in Microsoft's case ascertained that the act was not designed to apply outside of the US, it appears that in Google's case, the judge disagrees.

Google plans to appeal the decision. In a statement over the weekend, the Mountain View, California-based firm said, "The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision."

"We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants," Google added.

Is this the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy?

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