Ireland Weighs In to Support Microsoft in Email Privacy Case

Ireland joins a growing list of Microsoft supporters as the software giant battles the U.S. government's efforts to obtain data on overseas servers.

Microsoft email privacy case

Microsoft has gathered some powerful allies in its ongoing legal battle against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the case involving emails stored in a data center in Ireland. Now, that country's government is lending its support.

On July 31, Manhattan's U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ordered Microsoft to turn over emails stored on servers in Ireland to the DOJ. Microsoft appealed the decision on Dec. 8. In its court filing, the company argued that the emails in question "are located exclusively on a computer in Dublin, where they are protected by Irish and European privacy laws."

Days after Apple, Amazon, Cisco and HP joined scores of trade organizations, technology firms and media companies to support Microsoft, Ireland's government is lending its perspective on a case that could have implications for cloud services providers.

"The Government of Ireland and a member of the European Parliament weighed in separately with the court considering our case challenging a U.S. search warrant for customer email stored in Ireland," Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs, announced in a Dec. 23 statement. Both Ireland's government and the member of the European Parliament recently filed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs to stake out their positions.

Ireland's government asserts in its Dec. 23 friend of the court brief that its lack of participation during the U.S. court proceedings does not constitute a waiver of the country's sovereignty rights. "Ireland does not accept any implication that it is required to intervene into foreign court proceedings to protect its sovereign rights in respect of its jurisdiction, or that Ireland not intervening is evidence of consent to a potential infringement thereof," said the document.

Further, Ireland argued that there is already a mechanism, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, for requesting the information the DOJ seeks. "Ireland would be pleased to consider, as expeditiously as possible, a request under the treaty, should one be made."

For Microsoft, Ireland's input helps highlight the global ramifications of the case.

"The Irish government's engagement underscores that an international dialogue on this issue is not only necessary but possible," Smith said in his statement. "We've long argued that it's best for law enforcement to move forward in a way that respects people's rights under their local laws."

In a separate filing, Germany's Jan Philipp Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament who specializes in civil rights and data protection, highlighted the clash between U.S. and European data privacy laws. And it does not bode well for U.S. cloud providers doing businesses in the European Union (EU).

"The refusal of the U.S. Attorney to recognize that the email account at issue is located in a foreign jurisdiction and subject to foreign data protection rules is not only offensive to the sensitivities of European citizens but also reinforces the already strong sentiment of many EU citizens that their data is not 'safe' when they use IT services offered by U.S. corporations," stated Albrecht.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...