In a “win” for Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and other data privacy rights advocates, a U.S. Appeals court in New York issued a ruling preventing law enforcement officials from requiring Microsoft to provide access to data residing on non-U.S. servers.   The case stemmed from a demand by the Justice Department to access emails stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland as part of a criminal investigation.

Microsoft and its supporters hailed the case as a victory for privacy and and data protection, including data belonging to foreign citizens.

The case raises important questions around the cross-border nature of cloud-based computing and data storage, and there are concerns that the ruling could embolden fraudsters and others to take advantage of the ruling to shield illegal activities by using cloud-based architecture.

Microsoft argued that international treaties might provide a lawful alternative for law enforcement to access data on foreign servers, although it admitted that these agreements may be due for an overhaul by Congress.  The Appeals court also referenced the existence of international treaties as an option, although it characterized the process as “cumbersome”.

The Justice Department could choose to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

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