Tech companies support Microsoft in overseas data fight with U.S.

SEATTLE  – Technology companies Apple Inc, Inc , AT&T Inc and more than 20 others are supporting Microsoft Corp in the software company’s legal battle with the U.S. government over access to customer data stored overseas.

The Microsoft logo is displayed on a Nokia phone in Vienna September 3, 2013.  REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

The long-running court fight has taken on an urgency for technology and media companies in the wake of revelations about bulk electronic data collection by the U.S. National Security Agency from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

A U.S. judge ruled in late July that Microsoft must turn over a customer’s emails stored in a data center in Ireland to U.S. federal prosecutors under a criminal search warrant. It is unclear what type of investigation led to the warrant, which remains under seal.

Microsoft is appealing that ruling, saying U.S. authorities cannot automatically compel U.S. companies to hand over customer information stored overseas. The judge has temporarily suspended her order from taking effect while Microsoft appeals.

“We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws,” said Microsoft head lawyer Brad Smith in a blog post on Monday. “The U.S. government’s unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk.”

Smith said 10 industry groups planned to file “friend of the court” briefs with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Monday. He said the briefs will be signed by 28 tech and media companies, 35 computer scientists and 23 trade and advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. government has yet to file its response to Microsoft’s appeal, and oral arguments on the case are not expected for another six months or so.

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