Tech and Telecom Giants Support Resistance to Government Data Collection Demands

by Matt Klassen on December 17, 2014

There’s nothing, it would seem, that creates allies among enemies as quickly as government intrusion. For the last year Microsoft has been embroiled in a legal battle with the U.S. government over the latter’s demands for information pertaining to at least one particular Microsoft user. In 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis issued a warrant requiring Microsoft to deliver all data relevant to the subscriber in question, information hosted on a server inIreland, to theU.S. authorities. Microsoft subsequently refused.

While Microsoft would usually begrudgingly play along with such an information request, the problem this time is the information in question resides on a server in another country, calling into question the rights of the American government to said information.

It’s been an ongoing saga ever since, with Microsoft’s sworn enemies in the tech world banding together with the Redmond firm to voice their displeasure over how the American government apparently perceives the connection between the digital and physical worlds, arguing (correctly in my mind) that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over information stored in another country, even if it happens to be stored by an American company.

To that end, in what has become a rallying cry for the tech and telecom industries, this week Microsoft filed letters of support from a large number of allies, all stating that America should not and can not bypass national sovereignty to access digital information.

The ever-growing list of Microsoft supporters in this case now includes the likes of Apple, eBay, Verizon, Amazon, Cisco, and HP among many others, as well as trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce and Digital Rights Ireland. In fact, it’s a veritable who’s who of the tech and telecom worlds, all backing Microsoft’s refusal to allow the U.S. government access to information stored abroad.

“We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws,” wrote Microsoft’s Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, in a blog post.

“In contrast, the US government’s unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk.”

But as we’ve said before, at its heart this entire legal battle is centred on one key point: How does digital information relate to our physical world? If we consider that data is only raw information stored on a physical server then we have to conclude that said information is under the control of the Irish government, and American authorities have no right to it.

However, if such user data exists as a nebulous entity belonging to Microsoft but existing, in the truest sense of the word, everywhere (or nowhere) all at once, then perhaps the government does have a case, as the only point of connection the digital information truly has with the physical world is the provider itself, which in this case is Microsoft, a U.S.-based company.

In the end, as the tech and telecom worlds rally against government intrusion into private data stored in another country this entire story begs for a sharper legal definition of data and the digital world, one that clearly demarcates where the physical world ends and where digital space begins and what laws apply to what spaces.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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