DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish government has expressed serious concern about a U.S. court order for Microsoft to hand over emails held on servers in Ireland to U.S. prosecutors, saying it would create significant legal uncertainty about data protection in Europe.
A judge on Friday lifted a suspension on her order directing Microsoft to turn over a customer’s emails, but the software company said it would not release any emails while it appeals the ruling.
Ireland is home to the European headquarter of several large U.S. technology companies and is a major host of data servers.
Ireland’s minister for data protection, Dara Murphy, said the country would be open to a request for the emails under the 2001 Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which governs the transfer of information in criminal cases
But he described as “objectionable” the process being used, whereby a U.S. court was making a direct order about data held in another jurisdiction.
“The possible implications of this ruling are very serious for Ireland and the European Union,” he said.
“Compliance with the warrant may result in Microsoft, and any other U. companies with operations in the EU which are served with such warrants in the future, being in breach of the Irish Data Protection Acts and the EU Data Protection Directive,” he said.
The prospect of emails held in Ireland being handed over has drawn concern from technology companies - fearful of losing revenue from foreign customers worried that U.S. law enforcement might win broad power to seize their data.
Microsoft in particular was stung by revelations last year by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and has been at pains to prove to customers that it does not allow the U.S. government unchallenged access to personal data on its servers.
The case appeared to be the first in which a corporation has challenged a U.S. search warrant seeking data held abroad.
Murphy said that he had held talks with the European Commission about the implications of the ruling and would discuss the matter with the US Chargé d‘Affaires and the American Chamber of Commerce in Dublin.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Ediitng by Angus MacSwan