Last October, the European Court of Justice struck down the Safe Harbor agreement, a 15-year-old transatlantic arrangement that permitted U.S. companies to transfer data, such as people’s Google-search histories, outside the EU. In invalidating the agreement, the ECJ found that the blurry relationship between private-sector data collection and national security in the United States violates the privacy rights of EU citizens whose data travel overseas. The decision leaves U.S. technology companies with extensive international operations on shaky legal ground.
The invalidation of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement by the EU Court of Justice demonstrates the EU’s loss of faith in U.S. government privacy practices and the most recent tectonic shift in tech. In many ways, this decision is the latest consequence of Edward Snowden’s actions, which, for better or for worse, dramatically changed the way tech companies and citizens think about privacy.
Antiquated and outdated are words I hear too often when someone describes the federal government’s approach to information technology — or the corresponding laws and policies governing its implementation. During my nearly 27 years of public service, it was clear that the government’s response to new technology was often delayed by the challenges of reconciling new technology with existing law.
IF FBI agents equipped with an American search warrant broke into a safetydeposit box owned by an American firm in Dublin to seize letters that might help catch a drug-dealer, it would provoke uproar. But that is essentially what the FBI wants to be able to do in the virtual realm.
Since December 2013, Microsoft has been engaged in a pivotal battle with the U.S. government over e-mail stored on one of its company servers in Ireland. The government’s attorneys say the U.S. simply wants evidence linked to a narcotics case. Microsoft says if it loses the case, the consequences will resound well beyond the fate of an alleged drug dealer.
A US appeals court was warned that it could start an “international firestorm” permitting other countries to plunder personal emails in the US if it forces Microsoft to hand over emails on a server in Dublin.
Microsoft contends that the DoJ has exceeded its authority with potentially dangerous consequences. Organizations including Apple, the government of Ireland, Fox News, NPR and the Guardian have filed amicus briefs with the court, arguing the case could set a precedent for governments around the world to seize information held in the cloud. Judges have ruled against the tech company twice.
Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano on a case that could affect how big firms keep data private.
The Justice Department acknowledged on Wednesday that foreign governments can obtain customer data held in the U.S., as an agency lawyer pressed for access to emails stored by Microsoft Corp. in Europe.
If the government prevails in its legal battle to compel Microsoft to turn over e-mails held on a server in Ireland, an “international firestorm” could result, an attorney for the tech giant told a federal court in New York on Wednesday.