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Can the US Overrule EU Storage Laws?

Typically, each country has different laws that protect its citizens when it comes to the storage of digital data. This fact is very important for businesses to note, since it means that operating globally can raise some legal issues when it comes to data storage. This legality has become something that even UK members of parliament have come to question.

This all began when the US authorities issued a warrant in December 2013 in order to access email data that Microsoft holds. They believe the emails are linked to narcotics trafficking. However, the problem is that the data is stored in Dublin, Ireland.

Fast forward to July 2014 and a US judge ruled that Microsoft had to comply with the request for data access. Microsoft has no plans to hand over the email data as they have concerns about privacy. The action to enforce the order was originally suspended for appeal, but this has now been lifted.

The issue here is that an American court doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – have permission to overrule EU storage laws. US federal judge Loretta Preska said that “it is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information.”

However, a number of companies have come out in support of Microsoft. These include Apple and Verizon, who believe that conflict from foreign governments could come if the final decision favours the US authorities.

Some MPs in the UK have raised concerns over this because Parliament moved their emails to Microsoft Office 365’s cloud servers earlier this year.

William Hague, the leader of the House of Commons, responded to the worries through a letter to John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley.

“The relevant servers are situated in the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, both being territories covered by the EC Data Protection Directive”, he wrote. “Any access by US authorities to such data would have to be by way of mutual legal assistance arrangements with those countries.”

He went on to state that the US authorities would not have permission to search or seize any data that is stored within those servers. However, some are not convinced by Hague’s response.

John Hemming MP spoke to Computer Weekly and said that the court case makes it clear that as Microsoft is an American company then that trumps the European Data Protection Directive. He went on to say that searching and seizing data on an extraterritorial basis is currently taking place in America, despite that Hague states otherwise.

The whole case raises interesting questions about the security of data and the law that protects it. Should the law come from the country that the company is based in or the country that their servers are stored in? Indeed, the MPs concerns in this case come from the fact that their data could also be seized by the US government during their email search, whether it’s purposeful or accidental.

“I find it a bit odd that we establish a legal position where a foreign country’s security services are allowed access but ours are not,” said Hemming.


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