Google, unlike Microsoft, must turn over foreign emails–US judge

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By Jonathan Stempel

<span class="articleLocation”>A U.S. judge has ordered Google to comply with
search warrants seeking customer emails stored outside the
United States, diverging from a federal appeals court that
reached the opposite conclusion in a similar case involving
Microsoft Corp.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia ruled on
Friday that transferring emails from a foreign server so FBI
agents could review them locally as part of a domestic fraud
probe did not qualify as a seizure.

The judge said this was because there was “no meaningful
interference” with the account holder’s “possessory interest” in
the data sought.

“Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from
its multiple data centers abroad has the potential for an
invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs
at the time of disclosure in the United States,” Rueter wrote.

Google, a unit of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet
Inc, said in a statement on Saturday: “The magistrate
in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the
decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants.”

The ruling came less than seven months after the 2nd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Microsoft could not be
forced to turn over emails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland
that U.S. investigators sought in a narcotics case.

That decision last July 14 was welcomed by dozens of
technology and media companies, privacy advocates, and both the
American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

On Jan. 24, the same appeals court voted not to revisit the
decision. The four dissenting judges called on the U.S. Supreme
Court or Congress to reverse it, saying the decision hurt law
enforcement and raised national security concerns.

Both cases involved warrants issued under the Stored
Communications Act, a 1986 federal law that many technology
companies and privacy advocates consider outdated.

In court papers, Google said it sometimes breaks up emails
into pieces to improve its network’s performance, and did not
necessarily know where particular emails might be stored.

Relying on the Microsoft decision, Google said it believed
it had complied with the warrants it received, by turning over
data it knew were stored in the United States.

Google receives more than 25,000 requests annually from U.S.
authorities for disclosures of user data in criminal matters,
according to Rueter’s ruling.

The cases are In re: Search Warrant No. 16-960-M-01 to
Google and In re: Search Warrant No. 16-1061-M to Google, U.S.
District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Nos.
16-mj-00960, 16-mj-01061.



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