Home Government Tech Policy Precedent ignored: Google asked to hand over foreign emails

Precedent ignored: Google asked to hand over foreign emails

Google has been ordered by a US judge to comply with search warrants asking for customer emails stored outside the US, according to a report from Reuters.

This is in sharp contrast to Microsoft, which won the right to refuse access to customer emails stored in Ireland that were sought in connection with a drug-trafficking case.

The report said US Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter ruled in Philadelphia on Friday that copying email from a server based outside the US so that FBI agents would be able to see them as part of an investigation into a case of domestic fraud could not be considered a seizure.

There was "no meaningful interference" with the account holder's "possessory interest" in the data sought, the judge said, justifying the action.

"Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from its multiple data centres abroad has the potential for an invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States," Rueter wrote.

Google said in a statement on Saturday: "The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants."

The Microsoft case ended in victory for the software giant on 24 January when the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a 4-4 decision, refused to rehear an appeal of its own decision.

In July 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit based in New York reversed a decision by a Southern District of New York court which had held Microsoft in contempt of court for refusing to hand over the emails stored in Ireland.

The Department of Justice warrant had demanded that Microsoft release the contents of all emails stored in the particular account; records and information about account identification (including username and method of payment); all user records, including images and files; and all communications between Microsoft and the user about the account.

Storing the data of customers abroad has become a practice whereby US companies can assure foreign clients that their data will not be accessed by the NSA, a fear that has been fanned by the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 that the NSA was conducting blanket surveillance of all Internet communications.

The Microsoft case was originally filed before Snowden's revelations in June 2013.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.