Microsoft just won some powerful allies in its battle over Uncle Sam’s quest to tap e-mails stored overseas.Tech giants Amazon, HP and eBay on Monday said they support Microsoft’s effort to squash subpoenas demanding the Redmond, Wash., company hand over e-mails stored on servers located Dublin, Ireland.
A slew of news organizations also came out in support of Microsoft in the hotly contested legal case, which Silicon Valley fears could threaten its dominance in the $700 billion cloud computing industry.
In July, Manhattan federal judge Loretta Preska ordered Microsoft to turn over e-mails U.S. prosecutors are seeking in a drug-trafficking probe. The e-mailer’s identity has been sealed, but Microsoft — which controls Hotmail, MSN.com and Outlook e-mail accounts — only stores e-mails from accounts in Europe and Africa on its Dublin servers, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith told USA TODAY.
Smith has been at the forefront of Microsoft’s campaign to convince lawmakers and the courts that law enforcement should go through Ireland if it wants e-mails stored there — akin to how they would deal with paper documents.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has been pursuing the e-mails, has criticized that argument as semantics since the e-mails in question are easily accessible by Microsoft’s U.S. employees.
Microsoft isn’t giving up. On Monday, the company hosted an event in Midtown Manhattan to announce 10 “friend of the court” briefs signed by 28 technology and media companies, 35 leading computer scientists and 23 trade associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The briefs are tied to Microsoft’s appeal, filed last week.
At the event, Microsoft supporters presented the case as a debate over privacy in the age of the Internet.
“By virtue of using an e-mail server, I do not abdicate my privacy,” said Nuala O’Connor of Internet advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, who was a panelist at Monday’s event.
But experts said the case is also part of an effort by U.S. tech companies to regain customers’ trust after documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed how easily they caved in to government requests for information.
“Right now, confidence in governance of the cloud is a larger issue than the technical concerns of the cloud,” said Jim Reavis, CEO of the Cloud Security Alliance, a membership group that focuses on cloud security.
Financially, the stakes are high: A whopping $677 billion is expected to be spent on cloud services worldwide, according to research firm Gartner. Western Europe, meanwhile, is the second-biggest spender in cloud computing, behind only North America, Gartner said.