Courts & Crime

Tech and media companies ally with Microsoft in search warrant challenge

New tech and old media allied with Microsoft on Monday, in a high-stakes challenge to a federal search warrant that seeks e-mails stored overseas.

Companies and groups ranging from Apple and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to AT&T and EBay, along with media firms including Gannett and McClatchy, joined in amicus briefs supporting Microsoft’s search-warrant challenge. Monday was the amicus filing deadline, for the case to be heard sometime next year by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It’s very seldom that you see such broad and deep involvement by amicus in cases below the level of the Supreme Court,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s like a Who’s Who of tech and media companies.”

Federal prosecutors in New York City, as part of a drug investigation, served a search warrant on Microsoft last December. While crucial details of the investigation remain secret, Microsoft argues that the warrant’s power does not extend beyond U.S. territory to the Dublin data center where the e-mails are stored. The company has been resisting compliance.

“This is one of the most important cases working its way through the court system dealing with information privacy,” Smith said.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which joined in an amicus brief, added in a statement that the government’s position “will harm the ability of manufacturers in the United States to compete internationally.”

A district court judge rejected Microsoft’s arguments. The government’s appellate brief will be filed in March. In an earlier brief, the government insisted that the obligation to disclose records in response to a warrant is “not limited by the physical location of those records.”

“Information, like the data sought by the Warrant here, can be maintained in any location and moved around the world easily, at any time and for any reason,” the government previously argued. “Were Microsoft’s position adopted, the Government’s ability to obtain such information from a provider would turn entirely on whether it happens to be stored here or abroad, even though the provider, based in the United States, maintains control over the data wherever it is.”