Microsoft is fighting a US based court order demanding access to email stored on its servers in Ireland and has garnered support from major cloud players including Apple, Amazon, AT&T, and many others.  The results of this fight could change the shape of cloud computing forever.

In December of 2013, the US Government hit Microsoft with a search warrant requesting copies of emails in a criminal case from their servers.  That server is located in its Dublin, Ireland data center.  Microsoft has been fighting this search warrant on jurisdictional grounds.

“We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws. In contrast, the U.S. Government’s unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk. And as today’s briefs demonstrate, the impacts of this step are far-reaching.” — Microsoft Blog

Today Microsoft has released a brief showing support from other major cloud players including Verizon, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Salesforce, HP, eBay, Infor, AT&T, and Rackspace. Several major media companies have also added their support including CNN, ABC, Fox News, Forbes, the Guardian, Gannett, McClatchy, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and The Seattle Times.

Microsoft is quick to point out that they don’t want to actually interfere with legitimate law enforcement activities but that the cloud network topology is going to require new laws and new processes to be created that simply don’t exist now.

Law enforcement plays a vital role in investigating crimes and keeping our communities safe. We are not trying to prevent them from playing this role, but we believe reforms are needed that ensure that they do their work in a way that promotes vital privacy protections and builds the trust and confidence of citizens in the U.S. and around the world. — Microsoft Blog

The results of this legal battle have significant ramifications for cloud services and cloud based development.  Here are a couple of the possible scenarios.

Microsoft loses the fight and must give up data that is housed in foreign countries.  While its certainly fair to say that this could become a political issue between the US and the foreign government in question, another real impact could be on where corporations decide to call home.  Certainly the US government search warrant wouldn’t carry as much weight if levied against a company actually based in Ireland.  There have already been some high profile instances of companies leaving the US for overseas locations based on tax loopholes and other financial benefits.  It’s reasonable to think that data security could also become a cause for corporations to leave the US in favor of a political environment more data privacy friendly.  The costs alone of processing the thousands of data requests, legal fees for fighting for data privacy are easily in the millions of dollars for major cloud players like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google.

Microsoft wins the fight and the US government loses the ability to gather evidence for prosecuting criminals and terrorists who house their data overseas.   In this scenario, we find the internet further segregated along the same geographical borders that currently allow countries like North Korea and Iran to shut off Internet access altogether.  Countries that refuse access to data could become data center havens for those services who want to guarantee customer privacy in much the same way that some countries have become criminal retirement homes due to not having extradition treaties.  Certainly given the US governments massive intrusions into data privacy we can expect that those data centers won’t be US based.

So what do you think?  Should Microsoft keep fighting the good fight or are they just being an obstacle to justice?  What do you think will happen if they win?  What happens if they lose?  And how bad do things have to be to get Apple and Microsoft on the same side?  Hit the comment link and let us know your view.