Categorized | Civil Liberties, Legal IT

The security of your cloud data is under threat because of this Microsoft case

The security of your cloud data is under threat because of this Microsoft case

Major IT and Media Companies move to protect cloud data worldwide in a post-Snowden world

The story so far: 13th December 2013 US Magistrate Judge James Francis granted US authorities a warrant which authorised the search for and seizure of emails stored at premises ‘owned, maintained, controlled or operated by Microsoft’ in relation to a drugs case. Specifically, the warrant relates to emails stored by Microsoft email users on the company’s Dublin servers, currently held to be protected from such intervention under various ‘safe harbour’ treaties.

The same judge rejected Microsoft’s appeal against this decision and that ruling was upheld by the US District Court. Microsoft are now preparing an appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court and they are being supported by some of the biggest businesses on the planet, all of whom are facing major league problems with cloud hosting if the supreme court upholds the decision of the lower courts. In doing so, the first tipping point post Snowden comes closer.

Why does it matter to us in the UK? We currently believe that if we host our data in the cloud on an EU Safe-harbour protected server, external governments like the US cannot mandate the release of such data in this manner as it is outside their jurisdiction. Without such protection, it becomes very difficult to host any sensitive data in the cloud or transfer it by normal methods. UK law firms (amongst many others) could no longer risk hosting any of their data in the cloud unless they were totally certain that the host was a UK company hosting all data, including backups, within the UK. This rules out most of the companies businesses currently pass their data through or host it with.

Because of Snowden, we now know that our privacy is selective and vulnerable and this decision by the Supreme Court will make or break the reality of any remaining security.

How do we know this is the effect? Witness the storm that is brewing. In an unprecedented step, 28 of the largest tech and media companies filed briefs as friends of the court on the 18th December to support Microsoft. These include Apple, HP, eBay, Salesforce, and Rackspace as well as the Guardian, CNN, Fox News and the Washington Post. They are supported in this action by a plethora of trade associations and data specialists.

What are Microsoft arguing? Their latest blog from their General Counsel Brad Smith makes things very clear: ‘The U.S. has well-established treaties with countries around the world that allow them to seek the information they need while ensuring that citizens of other countries retain the privacy protections offered by their own laws and Courts….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. And as today’s briefs demonstrate, the impacts of this step are far-reaching…This case involves not a narrow legal question, but a broad policy issue that is fundamental to the future of global technology.’

Where are the governments in all this? Good question. On the 24th December, the Irish Government filed an Amicus Curiae Brief in the case supporting Microsoft and stating that the US should use existing treaties to get such information, particularly the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. The Register reports that this was accompanied by a similar brief from the Vice Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties but the EU itself remains silent and the clock is ticking. The US government’s brief in defence of its warrant is due early February with Microsoft needing to reply by mid-March.

This post was written by:

- who has written 11 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Founding designer of iLaw products. Practiced criminal defence work for the majority of her legal career, dual-handing duty and crown court work with being a franchising manager. Worked for DMH Stallard, Griffith Smith, Bosley & Co and Tuckers Solicitors. Her unique career path has also taken her deep into online retail and Christina is an expert at working with business owners and partners to develop new or better ways of enabling law firms to survive and thrive in the ever changing legal environment.

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