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Microsoft wins Apple-aligned case against U.S. over warrant for foreign emails

A U.S. Federal Court has ruled in Microsoft's favor in a closely-watch case involving a warrant the government obtained for a customer's emails stored on an Irish server. The ruling frees U.S. companies from being forced to hand over customer data if it's not being stored within the U.S.

According to a report by Kate Conger for TechCrunch, Microsoft has been fighting a New York district court's order since 2013, concerning a warrant issued for an individual's emails and other information stored by the company.

Microsoft had provided the government with metadata and other "non-content" information about its customer after a district court judge issued the warrant. However, the company argued that the content of the emails in question were not subject to seizure because the warrant did not have any jurisdiction over data stored in Ireland.

A federal magistrate judge again demanded that Microsoft produce the emails in 2013, but the company brought its case to the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit, which includes New York.Apple supported Microsoft's position in an amicus brief to the court

Apple supported Microsoft's position in an amicus brief to the court also supported by other tech firms including Cisco, Verizon and AT&T, civil liberties groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, and media organizations including CNN and the Washington Post.

Apple and Cisco jointly argued that upholding the warrant would place them and their employees at risk of foreign sanctions and could spur reciprocal legal actions on the part of international courts, putting the data of U.S. citizens in play.

Ireland also backed Microsoft, arguing that "foreign courts are obliged to respect Irish sovereignty."

Following the favorable verdict on appeal, Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief legal officer, said in a statement that the case "makes clear that the U.S. Congress did not give the U.S. Government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond U.S. borders.

"As a global company we've long recognized that if people around the world are to trust the technology they use, they need to have confidence that their personal information will be protected by the laws of their own country."

Apple has similarly resisted efforts by governments in the U.S., U.K. and China to demand its proprietary code and/or compel the company to introduce backdoors in its encryption or otherwise weaken the security of its products for the purpose of investigating suspects, conducting mass surveillance or weeding out opposition groups.