Microsoft has won a major court appeal that has enabled it to prevent handing over email data located on servers in the Republic of Ireland to US authorities.

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Microsoft had been challenging an earlier court decision that had granted the US Department of Justice a warrant seeking emails stored on a server in one of Microsoft’s European data centres, located in Dublin.

The warrant specifically centered on electronic mail that related to a major narcotics prosecution in the US.  While the origin of the original emails is still unknown, Microsoft had argued that the warrant did not entitle the DOJ access to the Dublin server because U.S. law does not apply to Ireland.

A number of fellow tech companies had publicly backed Microsoft in its appeal, filing arguments to the appeals court in support of the Redmond, Washington based tech company, including Amazon, Apple and Cisco.

A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. government cannot force Microsoft or other US based companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.

“[We] conclude that section 2703 of the Stored Communications Act does not authorise courts to issue and enforce against US‐based service providers warrants for the seizure of customer e‐mail content that is stored exclusively on foreign servers,”

Microsoft is thought to be the first U.S. company with the resources and finances to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said:

“It makes clear that the US government can no longer seek to use its search warrants on a unilateral basis to reach into other countries and obtain the emails that belong to people of other nationalities.”

The Department of Justice said it was disappointed with the appeals court verdict, and is expected to appeal itself, to the US Supreme court.