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Microsoft has said that acceding to U.S. prosecutors’ demands would violate Irish sovereignty. Associated Press

Ireland Tells U.S. to Use Treaty in Microsoft Email Case

The Irish government on Tuesday told U.S. prosecutors that if they wanted assistance in a criminal case, Ireland would happily consider the request. As part of a narcotics investigation, the U.S. Justice Department is trying to force Microsoft MSFT +0.98% to hand over emails from a customer account that is stored in a Dublin data center. In a rare move, Ireland filed papers in a New York federal appeals court on Tuesday saying the country would consider a U.S. government request for evidence in a criminal prosecution — under treaties that protect Irish sovereignty. The move echoes Microsoft’s appeal against handing over the emails, saying that a search warrant cannot reach beyond U.S. shores. Microsoft has said that acceding to U.S. prosecutors’ demands would violate Irish sovereignty by bypassing a treaty known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, under which the Irish  and U.S. governments help each other with evidence and witnesses in criminal cases. Tech and civil liberties groups have filed briefs supporting Microsoft. U.S. prosecutors have argued that where the data is physically located shouldn’t make a difference, because Microsoft can access the information from its U.S. offices. “They have total control over those records, can produce them here, and that’s all that matters,” federal prosecutor Serrin A. Turner said. In the amicus brief, Ireland stopped short of weighing in on whether the Justice Department was going too far. It said that it would continue to cooperate with the U.S. and other countries in fighting crime. “Ireland would be pleased to consider, as expeditiously as possible, a request under the treaty, should one be made,” the Irish government said in the court filing. The case comes as U.S. tech companies are increasingly trying to show that they protect customers’ information against government requests. Tech companies regularly, but not always, comply with warrants and other judicial requests for evidence. Over the last few years, several major companies including Microsoft, Twitter TWTR -2.29% and Google GOOGL +1.20% have begun publishing reports that catalogue the demands they receive from various countries. Ireland is home to the European headquarters of many American tech companies, including Apple, Google and Facebook FB -1.04%. Its office in charge of data protection is seen in other parts of Europe as business-friendly. Data protection has taken on even greater importance in Ireland of late. The country doubled the budget for the office of the data protection commissioner to €3.65 million ($4.45 million), and it recently created a minister-level position for data protection. “The right of individuals to the protection of their personal data is an essential foundation for modern society and the growing digital economy,” said Dara Murphy, the new Irish government minister for data protection, regarding the Microsoft case. “We must ensure that individuals and organizations can have confidence in the rules and processes that have been put in place to safeguard privacy.” Privacy concerns related to the U.S. government became a more urgent issue after former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden released documents detailing American spying programs. Mr. Murphy said, however, that the Snowden issue wasn’t a factor in discussions about filing the brief. He said Ireland had been asked by several tech and civil liberties groups to weigh in.


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