Google ordered to turn over foreign emails

It challenges a ruling that let Microsoft off the hook just days earlier.

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Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images
Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images

So much for Microsoft's court win providing a neat and tidy defense against law enforcement requests for foreign data. As part of an FBI fraud investigation, a Philadelphia judge has ordered Google to obey search warrants for emails stored on servers outside the US. The court ruled that transferring the messages to the US didn't count as seizing foreign information, since there was no "meaningful" damage to the email account holder's "possessory interest" in that data. The privacy violation occurs when emails are disclosed in the US, the judge says.

Needless to say, Google isn't pleased. It directly cited Microsoft's victory as precedent, and argued that it had obeyed the warrant by handing over info that was stored in the US. The company believes that the judge "departed" from that precedent and intends to appeal the decision.

It wouldn't be surprising if the appeal works given that Microsoft's own case managed to survive legal scrutiny. It successfully contended that users outside the US would assume that their data was governed by local laws, and that police couldn't override those protections just because an American company is hosting the data. Either way, the ruling shows that there isn't yet a final answer on handling data beyond US borders.

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