America

December 09, 2017

European Commission intervenes in Microsoft vs US government


Microsoft

The European Commission (EC) has now intervened in the ongoing battle which kicked off in 2014 between Microsoft and the US government to ensure that the European laws are “correctly understood”.

As Microsoft had earlier refused to hand over emails held on servers in Ireland, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) had taken Microsoft to court over the firm’s refusal to hand over emails held on servers in Ireland.

The government stated that Microsoft should comply with the warrant, under Section 2703 of the Stored Communications Act. However, Microsoft countered that search warrants couldn’t reach beyond US borders.

On December 7, the EC revealed that it has submitted advisory material to the court on behalf of the European Union (EU). This is known as an amicus brief, which is a legal document filed in court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject matter.

The EC then stated that it had chosen to submit the brief because the transfer of personal data from the EU to the US falls under EU data protection.

The EC further added, “The Commission considered it to be in the interest of the EU to make sure that EU data protection rules on international transfers are correctly understood and taken into account by the US Supreme Court.”

However, in its brief for the appeal case filed on December 6, the DoJ repeated its argument that Microsoft could comply with the warrant “by undertaking acts entirely within the United States”. The DoJ also said that Microsoft “has never stated that it would be subject to liability under the laws of Ireland or the European Union for disclosing in the United States any communications stored at its Dublin datacenter”.

The DoJ further added, “If actual conflict of laws were to arise, our judicial system is equipped to handle that scenario. The government could exercise discretion to pursue alternate channels, where available.”

Moreover, the DoJ in its brief also noted that a court of appeals judgment, when the DoJ was denied the right to appeal, said that the Stored Communications Act focused on user privacy.

However, the DoJ then argued that any invasion of privacy “occurs only when Microsoft discloses the communications to a third party”, which would happen in the US, “not in the foreign country or countries where Microsoft may decide to store the user’s emails at any given moment”.

According to the DoJ, the firm “does not invade a user’s privacy” by transferring data from servers in Ireland to the US, “just as Microsoft was not restricted from migrating the specified account from the United States to Ireland in the first instance”.

Notably, the EC concluded that its amicus brief “will not be in support of either one of the parties”.

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