Compliance Management, Privacy

Microsoft held in contempt, moves closer to appeal over customer email warrant

Microsoft has been held in contempt of court for not complying with a ruling that required it to relinquish customer emails in an Ireland data center to U.S. prosecutors.

The tech giant, however, is hopeful regarding the development, as it clears the way for Microsoft to appeal the government request for data.

Back in July, Microsoft revealed that it planned to oppose the government's request for emails stored outside the country. In a column published in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith said that, in its protest, Microsoft would argue that the government “can't force American tech companies to turn over customer emails stored exclusively in company data centers in other countries.”

Since then, a federal judge in Manhattan, Loretta Preska, upheld a lower court ruling to compel Microsoft to give up the records. She also eventually stayed a government search warrant until Microsoft could appeal, however.

On Monday, Judge Preska filed an order (PDF) which held Microsoft in contempt for failing to comply “in full” with the warrant. Preska added, however, that the court would impose no sanctions at this time, since Microsoft and the government came to an agreement that no penalties would be invoked while the case moves to an appeals court.

“While Microsoft continues to believe that a contempt order is not required to perfect an appeal, it agrees that the entry of an order of contempt would eliminate any jurisdictional issues on appeal,” the agreement said. “Thus, while reserving its rights to appeal any contempt order and the underlying July 31 ruling, Microsoft concurs with the government that entry of such an order will avoid delays and facilitate a prompt appeal in this case.”

The move comes as other major tech companies, like Facebook, have vigorously protested sweeping government requests for customer data.

In late June, the Manhattan district attorney office unsealed a case involving it the social networking company, essentially lifting a gag order on Facebook so that it could notify affected customers.

The case stemmed from a July 2013 court order that allowed the DA to seize the data from the Facebook accounts of 381 people. Since the case became public, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have stood behind Facebook as it goes through the appeals process.

At the time, Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel, called the data request “unprecedented,” for the company, and “by far the largest [it had] ever received.”

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