U.S. Judge Rules Search Warrants Extend to Email Stored Overseas

Microsoft contends the U.S. government shouldn't have the power to search the content of email stored overseas, but a federal judge disagrees.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis in New York on Friday ruled that Internet service providers must turn over customer emails and other digital content sought by government search warrants even when the information is stored outside the country.

The ruling came in a case involving a search warrant served on Microsoft for one of its customers whose emails are stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland.

Francis said that ISPs such as Microsoft and Google cannot refuse to turn over customer information and emails stored abroad when issued a valid search warrant from U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The search warrant in question was approved by Francis in December and sought information associated with an email account for a Microsoft customer, including the customer's name, contents of all emails received and sent by the account, online session times and durations and any credit card number or bank account used for payment.

It is unclear which agency issued the warrant, and it and all related documents remain under seal.

Microsoft determined that the target account is hosted on a server in Dublin and asked Francis to throw out the request, citing U.S. law that search warrants do not extend overseas.

In a blog post, David Howard, Microsoft corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, characterized the initial legal setback as "the first step toward getting this issue in front of courts that have the authority to correct the government’s longstanding views on the application of search warrants to content stored digitally outside the United States.”

— Reuters and NBC News staff