Imagine this scenario. German police investigating a press leak descend on Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. They serve a warrant to seize a bundle of private letters a US reporter is storing in a safe deposit box at a bank branch in Manhattan. The bank complies and orders the branch manager to open the reporter’s box and fax the private letters to the Stadtpolizei.
Uproar! The US would be outraged at the bypassing of bilateral agreements and flouting of its citizen’s rights. And yet this is exactly what the US government is ordering Microsoft to do, according to the software giant’s general counsel, Brad Smith.
After bruising revelations regarding the company’s working relations with the National Security Agency (NSA), Smith has emerged as one of the technology industry’s loudest voices for reform and greater openness.
Now he is spearheading Microsoft’s fight against US government demands for access to emails from a Microsoft customer which are currently sitting on a server in Dublin, Ireland, as part of a narcotics investigation. Earlier this year, a US court ruled that Microsoft should hand the data over. Microsoft declined to comply, voluntarily entering into contempt.
Last week Microsoft filed its appeal: “The power to embark on unilateral law enforcement incursions into a foreign sovereign country – directly or indirectly – has profound foreign policy consequences. Worse still, it threatens the privacy of US citizens,” the company said in court documents.