Microsoft gets support of privacy groups in battle against US

Privacy International has filed an amicus brief on behalf of 26 organizations in support of Microsoft’s battle against the US and the sticky fingers of its intelligence agencies.

This is a court case which has been ongoing for some time, as Microsoft has resisted the demands of the US government in handing over data which is stored on servers in Ireland. While the government believes as a US company Microsoft should hand over whatever it demands, Microsoft has been standing firm, stating it believes the US is overreaching considering the residence of the data and European data protection laws.

Late last week, Privacy International filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and 26 human and digital rights organizations and legal scholars, supporting the tech giant.

Legal battles, such as this, are often long-drawn out affairs, where multiple do-gooders and glory chaser decide to add to the euphoria, because of the precedent which can be set. Very little of this case will concern the information which the US is currently trying to get its hands on, but if it is successful in this venture, the tracks will be laid for future pokes into personal and private information.

“Our brief further explains how the US Government’s position would set the stage for repeated violations of data-protection laws around the world,” Privacy International said in a statement.

“Approximately 120 countries have laws that specifically protect personal data. The US Government would similarly violate these laws in countless cases should it be given the authority to unilaterally seize data stored abroad. It would also place companies that provide online services in the untenable position of having to violate the laws of other countries in order to comply with warrants issued in the United States.”

The US often positions itself as the moral voice of the world, but only when that stance is consistent with domestic objectives. In this case, the US doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact it would violate European data protection and privacy rules, because it has its own agenda and ambitions.

There are of course numerous objections which Privacy International has raised, but we feel this is one of the most important. Just because the process of storing information has changed does not mean a government has the right to impose its own standards and influence over citizens of other nations. Microsoft, irrelevant of its own drivers, is taking an important position against the government, which seems to want to head down the route of global Big Brother.

Naturally, there will be circumstances where such information will need to and should be handed over to the government, but there have been numerous examples over the last couple of months where governments are seeking a blank cheque to snoop. There is a fine line between safety and privacy, but it is crucial accountability and jurisdiction is maintained.

The US government should not be allowed to force cloud companies to hand over information when it violates the domestic regulations where the data has been sourced. Just because it has the biggest army, the biggest economy and the most expensive car, does not give it the right to judge whether laws in other nations are substandard to its own.

“Under principles of comity, courts determine how to apply US law without unreasonable interference with the sovereign authority of other nations,” the statement reads. “Since construing the Stored Communications Act to have extraterritorial application would conflict with the data protection laws of many governments around the world, comity principles militate against such an interpretation.”

We are encouraged by the Microsoft position and resistance to pressure, from a government which does occasionally present itself as a bully, and support from organizations such as Privacy International will only help the courts move to, what we believe, is the right decision.

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