Microsoft wins victory in warrant case

Microsoft wins victory in warrant case
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Microsoft won a major legal victory on Thursday, when a federal appeals court ruled the government cannot use a warrant to force U.S. tech companies to hand over customers’ emails that are stored overseas. 

The three-judge panel overturned a pair of lower court decisions that held Microsoft in contempt and compelled it to hand over a user's email account stored on its servers in Ireland. 

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"Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statute envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas," Judge Susan Carney wrote in the majority opinion

Judge Gerard Lynch also signed on to the opinion, while Judge Victor Bolden wrote a concurring opinion. 

Microsoft had argued that warrants mentioned in the Stored Communications Act carry geographical limitations, and they cannot be used to seize items from U.S. companies that are stored overseas. The court rejected the government's argument that a U.S. warrant should be enough to compel a U.S. company to hand over information in its control, regardless of location. 

Microsoft had a large contingent of tech backers on its side. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Cisco and Salesforce backed Microsoft, as well as a host of news organizations, including CNN, Fox News and The Washington Post. 

Tech industry backers have been fighting the case in the courts and in Congress. 

Microsoft-friendly lawmakers have been pushing the LEADS Act, which would allow the government to use a warrant to get access to Americans’ data stored overseas, but not from foreigners. Under the bill, a U.S. company could fight the government order if it would violate the foreign country’s laws.

"Today’s decision means it is even more important for Congress and the Executive Branch to come together to modernize the law. This requires both new domestic legislation and new international treaties. We should not continue to wait," Microsoft President Brad Smith said. 

Technology companies have been increasingly public in their opposition to some government orders for information following the National Security Agency leaks by Edward Snowden.