Ireland weighs in on email privacy case

Ireland is getting involved in a federal court case over privacy protections for emails stored in another country.

The country recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in an appeals court case backing up Microsoft’s challenge to a court order to hand over someone’s emails stored on a data server in Dublin.

“The right of individuals to the protection of their personal data is an essential foundation for modern society and the growing digital economy,” Irish Data Protection Minister Dara Murphy said in a statement. “We must ensure that individuals and organizations can have confidence in the rules and processes that have been put in place to safeguard privacy.” 

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In its brief, Ireland said that it “does not accept any implication that it is required to intervene into foreign court proceedings to protect its sovereignty,” and notes that it uses a treaty process with the U.S. to share evidence and fight crime.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in a blog post on Tuesday that Ireland’s decision to weigh in on the case “underscores that an international dialogue on this issue is not only necessary but possible.” 

The Microsoft case centers on a court order demanding that Microsoft turn over emails about a user stored on the Irish server.

Microsoft has so far refused to comply with the order, claiming that the government needs to go through an established treaty process to obtain the evidence. Otherwise, the demand could risk other countries’ sovereignty and force companies to run afoul of other laws, it claims.

The case is being closely watched by technology and civil liberties advocates. Companies including Apple and Verizon have signed on to friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Microsoft, as have organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Chamber of Commerce.