“Victory for privacy” as US government is denied access to emails held on overseas Microsoft servers.

In an important decision which has set a significant precedent for privacy protection of cloud computing services a US court has ruled that Microsoft does not have to allow the US government access to emails located on a foreign server. 

The US government wanted access to emails held on a server in Ireland as part of a drug investigation. It was argued that the decision to allow a global application of US search warrants for access to emails would create a “global free-for-all” with foreign governments interfering with the protection of citizens’ privacy rights by arbitrarily reaching over national borders. 

Microsoft were backed by companies such as Amazon, Apple and Cisco who were undoubtedly keen to see this outcome, which helps to convey trust in technology as more and more confidential information is moved to the cloud for processing and storage.

The decision can provide comfort that appropriate safeguards are placed on the US government and that accepted international agreements will be upheld. There were concerns that allowing the US government access to overseas stored data would stunt the exponential growth in the use of cloud services that the sector is currently experiencing.

It remains to be seen whether this will be appealed to the US Supreme Court. What would be more useful in the long-term is a reform of the 1986 Stored Communications Act which, considering the political tensions involved, may take some time.