​Why Microsoft vs. US Govt is a huge deal for cloud computing

Redmond stands up for tech community - but will US Court of Appeals agree?

Brad Smith - President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft

Brad Smith - President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft

Microsoft’s insistence on safe guarding information from its data centre in Ireland, and its subsequent refusal to bow to the pressures of the US Government stands to have major ramifications for the cloud industry as whole.

For those in the dark, the tech giant is at war with the powers that be in Washington following its refusal to hand over emails related to a narcotics case from a Hotmail account hosted in Ireland.

In a lawsuit that is reverberating throughout cloud computing, the ‘Microsoft Ireland’ case - as it’s now become known - looks set to impact cloud providers and multinational companies from New Zealand to Norway in a landmark case in Europe.

In September this year, the Second Circuit Court heard arguments in Microsoft’s case challenging a US search warrant, with Redmond arguing the warrant puts US citizens’ privacy at risk, improperly expands extraterritorial authority and circumvents local authorities in Ireland.

Following the second round of court battles and appeals, a decision is expected sometime in November with Redmond carrying the hopes of the technology industry as it bids to stand up for privacy rights across the world.

Initially, lower courts ruled in favour of the government forcing Microsoft to appeal to the US Court of Appeals, filing its first brief with the Second Circuit in December 2014.

So far the case has attracted amicus briefs from 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy organisations, 35 prominent computer scientists, the Republic of Ireland and a member of European parliament.

With such strong backing from traditional rivals Apple, Cisco, Verizon and AT&T to name a few, Microsoft argues that its data should be protected by the laws of the land where its servers are located - in this case, Ireland.

“Privacy really is a fundamental human right,” writes Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft via the company’s official blog.

As outlined by Microsoft, here are five quick fact about the case so far:

1. The Justice Minister for the European Commission authored a letter on this case.

2. The issues at stake in this case have been the subject of writing by academics and legal experts: See this, this, and this.

3. The LEADS Act, a solution proposed in Congress, has 91 co-sponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate.

4. The Supreme Court ruled in Riley that “privacy comes at a cost.”

5. Here’s what Americans think about this issue… and here’s what the Irish think.

New era?

But as explained by Smith, when the technology industry looks at at the year 2015, the month of October will stand tall as a month when the EU-US Safe Harbor collapsed.

Widely regarded as principles which enable some US companies to comply with privacy laws protecting European Union and Swiss citizens, following a customer complaint that his Facebook data was insufficiently protected, the European Court of Justice declared that the Safe Harbour Decision was invalid.

“An international legal agreement that has been in place for 15 years was invalidated in a single day,” Smith recalls.

“On Oct. 6, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down an international legal regime that over 4,000 companies have been relying upon not just to move data across the Atlantic, but to do business and serve consumers on two continents with over 800 million people.”

For Smith, the decision made clear what many have been advocating for some time.

“Legal rules that were written at the dawn of the personal computer are no longer adequate for an era with ubiquitous mobile devices connected to the cloud,” he added.

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