The Microsoft ruling was made by NY District Judge Loretta Preska on Thursday, in a case where the company is opposing a US search warrant to access the emails of one of its European customers as part of a drugs investigation.
The emails are stored in Microsoft's data centre in Dublin and the company argued that US prosecutors don't have the right to seize customer information held overseas. But in a two-hour hearing the judge disagreed, saying: “It is question of control, not a question of the location of the information”.
But she temporarily suspended the order from taking effect, to allow Microsoft to appeal to a higher court.
Microsoft chief lawyer Brad Smith has confirmed it will fight the ruling, saying the decision would allow the US to snoop on customers overseas, just as the UK Government can now snoop on American citizens under its recently enacted ‘DRIP' legislation.
Smith said after the ruling: “We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the US and around the world.”
He elaborated on this in a Wall Street Journal article last Tuesday, warning: “If the US government prevails in reaching into other countries' data centres, other governments are sure to follow. One already is. Earlier this month the British government passed a law asserting its right to require tech companies to produce emails stored anywhere in the world. This would include emails stored in the US by Americans who have never been to the UK.”