On April 25, 2014, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Microsoft must release user data to U.S. law enforcement when issued a search warrant, even if the data is stored outside of the U.S.
The case stems from a search warrant seeking the contents of all emails, records and other information regarding one of Microsoft’s email users. Microsoft complied with the warrant by producing “non-content” information related to the account (which is stored on U.S. servers), but refused to turn over the contents of the emails that are stored on a server in Ireland. The company argued that U.S. courts are not authorized to issue warrants for extraterritorial search and seizure of emails. The judge found that a search warrant for online data is unlike a conventional warrant, stating that if it were treated like a conventional warrant, the burden on the government would be substantial and law enforcement efforts would be impeded.
In a blog post, Microsoft Deputy General Counsel David Howard indicated that Microsoft views the ruling as “the first step toward getting this issue in front of courts that have the authority to correct the government’s longstanding views on the application of search warrants to content stored digitally outside the United States.”