A top U.S. judge has ruled that Google, unlike Microsoft, must comply with FBI search warrants for emails held on its servers outside the United States.
The decision diverges from a federal appeals court that came to an opposite conclusion in a similar case involving Microsoft.
The law that Google is being forced to comply with is the Stored Communications Act, and the warrants from the FBI for the emails concern an FBI investigation into domestic fraud on US soil.
Microsoft itself has fought a long battle of attrition with the US Government that started back in early 2014, when a district court ordered the Windows manufacturer to release emails and personal data held on servers based in Dublin, Ireland.
While Microsoft lost the first two court cases arguing that the US had no jurisdiction over foreign based data, it eventually won on appeal, with a result by the US Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit tied 4-4 last month. The dissenting judges in that ruling have called on the US Supreme Court and Congress to review the case.
Microsoft’s victory last July was welcomed with relief by technology and media companies, and both the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia ruled in the Google case on Friday, that transferring emails from a foreign server so FBI agents could review them locally as part of a domestic fraud probe did not qualify as a seizure. “Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from its multiple data centres abroad has the potential for an invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States,” Rueter wrote.
In response to the ruling Google said: “The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants.”
According to court papers, Google receives around 25,000 requests annually from US authorities for disclosure of data.