U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter handed down the ruling, ordering Google's surrender of said emails. The move is inverse to that of a previous case that involved Microsoft, which, unlike Google, could not be forced to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland, which was needed for a case involving narcotics.
Google Ordered To Surrender Emails Stored On A Foreign Server
In this new case, however, Judge Rueter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the transfer of emails culled from a foreign server for FBI agents's review didn't qualify as a seizure, Reuters reports.
According to the judge, this was because there was no "meaningful interference" with the account holder's "possessory interest" in the data being probed as part of a domestic fraud case. The judge noted that while Google's retrieval of data from foreign servers might qualify as an act of privacy invasion, the actual infringement "occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States."
The ruling, however, is not set in stone, as it has the potential to go against the precedent set last year as part of Microsoft's case. The case and its upshot received significant fanfare by other tech companies, crusaders of privacy, and other institutions.
Google Says Ruling Contradicts Precedent Set By Similar Microsoft Case
Google already has intentions to appeal the ruling, releasing a statement that noted the magistrate's departure from the aforementioned precedent.
"We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants," the Mountain View, California-based company said Saturday.
The Microsoft ruling last July was nearly revisited by the same appeals court late January, with the four dissenting judges calling on the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress to reverse it, opining that the decision was detriment to law enforcement, while also inciting national security concerns.
Both cases involved warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law many tech companies and advocates of privacy consider archaic and outdated, or at the very least certainly not modern enough for present-day situations.
Court papers stated that Google "sometimes" parses emails into disparate pieces as a way to improve its network performance, meaning the company didn't particularly know where specific emails might be stored.
Google believes it has complied with the warrants it had received by facilitating the handover of data stored in U.S. servers. According to the judge's ruling, Google receives over 25,000 requests per year for email handovers that aid criminal probes.
The Stored Communications Act is now more than 30 years old, and given how recent threats to privacy have shaped the climate of the subject matter, maybe the federal law needs a timely touch-up. Maybe it could use some amendments to reflect concerns today.
This past December, Google released eight national security letters sent by the FBI as part of the search company's commitment to transparency. The letters were sent by different FBI offices across the country, spanning 2010 to 2015. The letters, in most cases, were trying to obtain names, addresses, and account usage and behavior on particular platforms.
Usually wrung tight so as to veer away from public disclosure, Google relied on the recently passed USA Freedom Act to publish the letters.