A federal appeals court refused to reconsider its landmark decision forbidding the US government from forcing Vole and other companies to turn over customer emails stored on servers outside the United States.
It was a close vote by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, but it let stand a July 14 decision that was a victory for privacy advocates, and for technology companies offering cloud computing and other services worldwide.
The dissenting judges said that decision by a three judge panel could hamstring law enforcement, and called on the US Supreme Court or Congress to reverse it.
Peter Carr, a US Department of Justice spokesman, said: “We are reviewing the decision and its multiple dissenting opinions and considering our options.”
Circuit Judge Susan Carney ruled that Microsoft could not be forced to turn over emails sought for a narcotics case, but stored on a server in Dublin.
Carney said the emails were beyond the reach of domestic search warrants issued under the federal Stored Communications Act, a 1986 law.
Microsoft was thought to be the first US company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country.
The case attracted significant attention from technology and media companies concerned that a ruling for the government could jeopardize the privacy of customers, and make them less likely to use cloud services if they thought data could be seized.
Dozens of technology and media companies backed Vole including Amazon.com, Apple, CNN, Fox News Network and Verizon Communications, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Judges opposed to the ruling said it should not matter where the emails were stored because Microsoft was a US company. They also said the panel did not properly address the challenges that electronic data storage poses for law enforcement.
The judge expressed hope that the panel’s view of the 1986 law “can be rectified as soon as possible by a higher judicial authority or by the Congress.”