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Google to appeal after loss in cloud data privacy case

Further battle over cloud data privacy is imminent, as a court decides against Google and declines to consider Microsoft's recent appeal victory as precedent.

Google will appeal a U.S. court decision ordering the company to comply with search warrants issued for customer data stored overseas.

The decision seemed to be at odds with Microsoft's successful appeal last month in a cloud data privacy case that, like Google's case, was based on a warrant for data stored outside the U.S., under the Stored Communications Act. Google argued that some of the requested data could not be legally disclosed because it was stored overseas, but the company disclosed some of the data requested by the FBI under warrants in two separate criminal cases.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled in favor of the government in this case. "The disclosure by Google of the electronic data relevant to the warrants at issue here constitutes neither a 'seizure' nor a 'search' of the targets' data in a foreign country," he wrote.

In the decision, Rueter explained: "Electronically transferring data from a server in a foreign country to Google's data center in California does not amount to a 'seizure' because there is no meaningful interference with the account holder's possessory interest in the user data."

Although some or all of the data may have been held outside the U.S., Rueter noted Google's admission that it routinely moves customer data without the customer's permission -- and may not even be able to definitively state where specific customer data is stored at any given time. "Google contends that it does not currently have the capability, for all of its services, to determine the location of the data and produce that data to a human user at any particular point in time," Rueter wrote.

"The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision," Google stated through a spokesperson. "We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants."

Google argued that the cloud data privacy case involving Microsoft should apply to Google, as well. In that case, Microsoft resisted a search warrant issued in December 2013 demanding the email of an unnamed suspected drug dealer that was stored in a data center in Ireland.

Last year, Google was one of a number of organizations, including Apple, Amazon, Cisco, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Delta, Eli Lilly, BP America, The Washington Post, Fox News, the National Newspaper Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that filed amicus briefs in the cloud data privacy case, in which a three-judge panel for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decided in Microsoft's favor.

That ruling, asserting the government's warrant could not be used to compel Microsoft to turn over customers' emails stored outside the U.S., was affirmed last month when the circuit court rejected the government's appeal.

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