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Microsoft vs US government ruling could have a dangerous global precedent say experts

The outcome of the court case between Microsoft and the US government over access to private data stored in another country is likely to set a dangerous global precedent, legal experts warn.

The software giant is embroiled in a hugely significant case with the Department of Justice (DoJ) over government demands to have access to data stored outside of the US and an outcome is expected soon.

The current case in a Manhattan court today pertains to a single Hotmail email account stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland which the Department of Justice wants access to without working with Irish police. Apparently the email account involves drugs and the DoJ has issued a warrant for access to the data stored on it.

If the verdict goes against Microsoft then experts warn that a standard will have been set allowing governments around the world to reach into other territories and take private data.

A favourable outcome for Microsoft does not look promising however; it has already lost twice in court but is challenging the order in the US court of appeals for the second circuit in New York.

The significance of the outcome is evident in the fact that major technology companies including Apple and Amazon; privacy groups; leading computer scientists; and media companies filed legal briefs backing Microsoft in a case the company has summed up as ““fundamental to the future of global technology”.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s senior staff attorney Lee Tien warned that a victory for the US government would make everyone’s data “fair game” for governments outside the US. When speaking to the Guardian he highlighted a scenario where a person’s “data goes to a country where they’re not as protective of data as the United States and they decide they don’t even need a warrant”.

Microsoft's lawyer, Brad Smith, has said that if it loses the appeal, he will try to take the matter to the Supreme Court.