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Why an Appeals Court Won’t Reconsider the Microsoft Email Seizure Ruling

January 24, 2017

Microsoft Corp. Opens New Office And Experience CenterMicrosoft Corp. Opens New Office And Experience Center
An employee uses a Microsoft Corp. Surface tablet computer at the company's Office and Experience Center during a media event for the opening of the workspace in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, March 4, 2016. Bill H.C. Kwok—Bloomberg via Getty Images

An equally divided federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to reconsider its landmark decision that the U.S. government cannot force Microsoft and other companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.

By a 4-4 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan let stand a July 14 decision that was seen as a victory for privacy advocates and for technology companies offering cloud computing and other services worldwide.

Microsoft (MSFT) and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case concerned Microsoft’s objection to a warrant seeking emails from a Dublin, Ireland server in a narcotics case.

Microsoft was thought to be the first U.S. company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country.

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In the July decision, Circuit Judge Susan Carney said communications held by U.S. service providers on servers outside the United States were beyond the reach of domestic search warrants issued under a 1986 federal law known as the Stored Communications Act.

The four dissenting judges on Tuesday said that decision could unnecessarily hamstring law enforcement.

Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote in dissent that the decision “has indisputably, and severely, restricted an essential investigative tool used thousands of times a year in important criminal investigations around the country. To top this off, the panel majority’s decision does not serve any serious, legitimate, or substantial privacy interest.”