Microsoft Gains New Allies in Drug Trafficking Investigation

Last year, United States prosecutors issued Microsoft a warrant for emails stored by the tech titan in an Irish data center that was allegedly in relation to a drug trafficking investigation. The tech giant refused the request, but was soon ordered by a judge this past summer to hand over this requested information.

New York judge James Francis argued that a warrant for online information was similar to a subpoena and it had to be obeyed. In response to this argument, Microsoft filed a series of letters containing support from many of the tech behemoths, including its own rivals, that are fighting against the court order.

The supporters present the case that the data falls outside of U.S. jurisdiction and it poses a risk of showing American documents to Irish authorities. Furthermore, Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith has urged the federal government to pass legislation protecting the privacy of emails stored in the cloud.

“Everybody wants to have their rights protected by their own law,” Smith said at a Microsoft-sponsored event in New York City on Monday. “Try telling an American that their rights are no longer going to be protected by the Constitution, they’re no longer going to be protected by U.S. law; they’re going to be protected by Irish law or Chinese law or Brazilian law.”

Drug Trafficking

They used the example of a Hilton hotel room: Hilton is an American company, but there are hotel rooms all over the world, including in Dublin. This means law enforcement officials wouldn’t be permitted to search a Dublin-based Hilton hotel room just because it’s owned by an American company.

Some of Microsoft’s allies in this matter include Verizon, Amazon, Cisco, CNN, the Guardian, the Washington Post and Hewlett-Packard. Apple was the latest to join the fray.

Jim Reavis, CEO of the Cloud Security Alliance, posited that the governing controls of the cloud is of far greater concern than the technical intricacies of the cloud. Meanwhile, Nuala O’Connor of Internet advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, noted that he does not give up his privacy whenever he uses an email server.

O’Connor added that the prevalence of digital records will go even higher within the next decade. “It’s not just going to be email,” she added. “Ten years from now … every thought and every communication and every transaction I do will be online. That’s not a business record—that’s my life.”

In addition to privacy concerns, the cloud industry generates immense sums of revenues. It is projected by the research firm Gartner that the business will receive $677 billion as consumers, businesses and governments spend more money on global cloud services.

The simple question that observers may be asking: why doesn’t the U.S. government just simply ask the Irish government for these emails? American officials say there’s just too much red tape in this matter. Microsoft has even conceded that if Ireland gives its approval to access the data then it will cave in to demands and hand over this information.

Until then, Microsoft said it’s taking a principled approach to such a controversial and important issue.