Tech Giants Join Together To Stop U.S. Government From Seeking Search Warrants For Emails Stored Overseas

CREDIT: AP Photo/Google - Connie Zhou

The U.S. wants to tap into data centers like this one owned by Google to access Americans files that are stored abroad through search warrants .

Apple, Verizon and other tech companies have banded together to support Microsoft’s fight against the U.S. government’s use of search warrants to seize emails stored overseas.

Back in December, a New York magistrate judge issued a search warrant requiring Microsoft to turn over copies of emails stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland as part of a criminal investigation. The tech company contested the warrant amid privacy concerns, saying the judge had no authority to request a search seizure of property located overseas.

Last week, wireless providers Verizon and AT&T, and tech companies Apple and Cisco Systems filed petitions with the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York backing up Microsoft’s appeal. Each company asserts that warrants for online data located overseas should be subject to the same rules applied when the government wants to obtain physical property outside the U.S.

Microsoft argues that search warrants for physical evidence can only be used within the United States borders, and can’t be used to “search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States,” according to a company blog post.

“By disregarding that process, and the laws of the country where the data is stored, [the judge puts tech companies] at significant risk of foreign sanctions, and threatens a potential loss of customer confidence,” Apple and Cisco wrote. As a result, customers in foreign countries would simply flee to non-U.S.-based companies, Verizon wrote. Moreover, if the search warrant is allowed to stand, it could potentially “reduce the privacy protection of everyone on the planet,” Microsoft wrote in its appeal.

Tech and telecommunications companies have become increasingly vocal in challenging how governments handle consumer data. Edward Snowden’s revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in 2013 revealed how the agency used backdoor access to gather consumers information from tech companies’ data centers.

Since then, tech companies including Microsoft have lobbied for greater transparency of these types of data requests and consumer privacy protections under pressure from mounting public concerns in the U.S. and abroad. After the NSA leaks, Microsoft offered customers overseas the choice to have their data stored on servers outside of the U.S.