Menu
Google ordered by US court to produce emails stored abroad

Google ordered by US court to produce emails stored abroad

An appeals court had taken a different view in a lawsuit involving Microsoft

Google has been ordered by a federal court in Pennsylvania to comply with search warrants and produce customer emails stored abroad, in a decision that is in sharp contrast to that of an appeals court in a similar case involving Microsoft.

Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled Friday that the two warrants under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) for emails required by the government in two criminal investigations constituted neither a seizure nor a search of the targets' data in a foreign country.

Transferring data electronically from a server in a foreign country to Google's data center in California does not amount to a seizure because “there is no meaningful interference with the account holder's possessory interest in the user data,” and Google’s algorithm in any case regularly transfers user data from one data center to another without the customer's knowledge, Judge Rueter wrote.

He added that when Google produces the electronic data in accordance with the search warrants, and the government views it, the invasion of the account holder's privacy - the searches - will take place in the U.S.

In the Microsoft case, which was cited by Google, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York quashed a warrant that would have required the company to disclose contents of emails stored on a server in Ireland.

The court said in its opinion that the SCA under which the warrant was served “does not authorize courts to issue and enforce against U.S.‐based service providers warrants for the seizure of customer e‐mail content that is stored exclusively on foreign servers."

The architecture of Google’s system that partitions user data into shards does not let the company establish with any certainty which foreign country’s sovereignty would be implicated when the company accesses the communications to produce it in response to a legal process, making it difficult for law enforcement to look for other means such as Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) between countries to get access to the data.

“Google admits that the location of the data could change from the time the Government applies for legal process to the time when the process is served upon Google,” the Judge wrote.

Microsoft had argued in court that nowhere did the U.S. Congress say that the Electronics Communications Privacy Act, of which the SCA is a part, "should reach private emails stored on provider's computers in foreign countries."

The company provided non-content information held on its U.S. servers in response to the search warrant, but tried to quash the warrant when it concluded that the account and the content of the mails were hosted in Dublin.

Microsoft instead favored an inter-governmental resolution to the U.S. demand for access to the emails in Dublin, through the use of MLATs the U.S. has with other countries including Ireland.

In the Microsoft case, unlike that of Google, all the relevant user data of a presumably Irish citizen was located exclusively in one data center in Ireland and remained stable there for a significant period, Judge Rueter wrote.

The assumption made by the majority in the decision of the Second Circuit was that messages stored in the cloud have a discernable physical location, which could not be made in the Google case.

The judge held that under the warrants against Google, “the invasions of privacy will occur in the United States; the searches of the electronic data disclosed by Google pursuant to the warrants will occur in the United States when the FBI reviews the copies of the requested data in Pennsylvania.”

He described the cases against Google as involving a “permissible domestic application of the SCA, even if other conduct (the electronic transfer of data) occurs abroad.”

Google said in a statement that the magistrate in the case had departed from precedent, and it planned to appeal the decision. "We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants," it added.


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Featured

Slideshows

The making of an MSSP: a blueprint for growth in NZ

The making of an MSSP: a blueprint for growth in NZ

Partners are actively building out security practices and services to match, yet remain challenged by a lack of guidance in the market. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable - in association with Sophos - assessed the making of an MSSP, outlining the blueprint for growth and how partners can differentiate in New Zealand.

The making of an MSSP: a blueprint for growth in NZ
Reseller News Platinum Club celebrates leading partners in 2018

Reseller News Platinum Club celebrates leading partners in 2018

The leading players of the New Zealand channel came together to celebrate a year of achievement at the inaugural Reseller News Platinum Club lunch in Auckland. Following the Reseller News Innovation Awards, Platinum Club provides a platform to showcase the top performing partners and start-ups of the past 12 months, with more than ​​50 organisations in the spotlight.​​​

Reseller News Platinum Club celebrates leading partners in 2018
Meet the top performing HP partners in NZ

Meet the top performing HP partners in NZ

HP has honoured its leading partners in New Zealand during 2018, following 12 months of growth through the local channel. Unveiled during the fourth running of the ceremony in Auckland, the awards recognise and celebrate excellence, growth, consistency and engagement of standout Kiwi partners.

Meet the top performing HP partners in NZ
Show Comments