Microsoft is fighting the DOJ too

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Outside Microsoft's research lab in Redmond, Washington in July 2012.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Like Apple, Microsoft has also taken a defiant stance against a court’s order to turn over customer data to law enforcement.

Microsoft’s court battle hasn’t gotten nearly the amount of attention that Apple’s has. But the implications for Microsoft’s line-in-the-sand approach is remarkably similar to Apple’s

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice served Microsoft with a subpoena and a search warrant for emails that live in a data center in Ireland. Microsoft is refusing to comply because it believes those emails should be off-limits to the U.S. government until Ireland gives the okay.

In his oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals in September, Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith said, “The future of the Internet, privacy, respect for borders, and public safety” were at stake. That sounds a lot like the language Tim Cook has used in his letter to Apple customers last week.

Microsoft says it believes data stored overseas cannot be subjected to U.S. search warrants. If the government wants information that lives in a foreign server farm, it has to go through a legal channel known as a mutual legal assistance treaty.

For example, just because Hilton is a company based in the United States, the U.S. government couldn’t search a Hilton hotel room in England. Items in that room would be covered by U.K. laws.

But in August a federal judge rejected Microsoft’s argument. The judge’s reasoning: Since the emails can be instantly transferred to the United States with a click of a button, the search would actually occur here. Microsoft has appealed, and an appeals court decision is expected to be released soon.

Most of the details about the criminal case have been sealed, but we know the suspects are not American and the case involves drug dealing.

Microsoft said it would have complied if the customers were U.S. citizens, or if the U.S. government had asked Ireland to issue a subpoena for the data.

So why haven’t U.S. prosecutors just asked Ireland for the emails? That process involves too much red tape in the digital age, the U.S. government argued. If a server were housed in a country with an unfriendly government, the United States might not be able to clear the necessary hurdles to extract data it could need as part of future investigations.

Like Apple, Microsoft acknowledged that its bottom line is at stake. The cloud computing business is booming. People and corporations around the world are increasingly storing their data in Microsoft’s server farms. Customers must believe that their emails are secure.

Similarly, Apple has said that its customers expect the iPhone to be secure and free from backdoors that hackers or governments could potentially exploit.

Apple and dozens of other tech and media companies, including CNN, have filed court briefs in support of Microsoft’s position. The Irish government has also voiced its support for Microsoft.

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