Last summer, a judge told Microsoft it had to comply with a search warrant to turn over the private emails of a person wanted in a narcotics investigation.
Warrants like this are not uncommon. But there was something unusual about this case: The emails were stored on a server in Ireland.
Microsoft said the US government should have gone through Irish authorities, and appealed the case.
On Monday, a bunch of companies filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Microsoft. The list reads like a who’s who of Microsoft competitors, including Amazon, Apple, Cisco, and Salesforce. There were also a bunch of media companies, including CNN and Fox, and other trade and consumer groups. (The full list is here.)
The case is important because it goes to the heart of how cloud computing works for business customers, not just consumers.
When companies sign up to use a cloud service, they’re storing business data in somebody else’s data center. That requires a big leap of trust, and opens companies to different kinds of risks than if they were storing that data in house, as almost every company used to do a mere decade ago.
Different countries have different privacy laws, different standards for disclosing information after a request from law enforcement, and so on. Most clouds let customers dictate where their data is stored, so that companies can understand and plan for the legal risks accordingly.
If the court rules that US law enforcement can subpoena information in an Irish data center, those assurances would start to erode. Customers might be more nervous about storing their data in the cloud.
That’s a big deal for Microsoft, which has pinned its future growth hopes on cloud services for businesses like Azure and Office 365.
Amazon, Salesforce, and Rackspace (which also filed a brief) are also big players in cloud computing, so it makes sense for them to come aboard.
Microsoft has been pretty consistent on this front. Earlier this year, when European customers freaked out about the revelations that the US National Security Agency was monitoring internet traffic, Microsoft told foreign customers it would let them store all their data outside the US.