U.S. judge lifts suspension on Microsoft overseas email seizure

NEW YORK Fri Aug 29, 2014 5:19pm EDT

A shadow of a man using his mobile phone is cast near Microsoft logo at the 2014 Computex exhibition in Taipei June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

A shadow of a man using his mobile phone is cast near Microsoft logo at the 2014 Computex exhibition in Taipei June 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Pichi Chuang

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Friday lifted a suspension on her order directing Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) to turn over a customer's emails stored overseas to U.S. prosecutors.

Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan had on July 31 upheld a magistrate judge's ruling on the emails, which have been held in a data center in Ireland.

That prospect had drawn concern from technology companies fearful of losing revenue from foreign customers worried that U.S. law enforcement might win broad power to seize their data.

Preska had delayed enforcement of the government's search warrant so Microsoft could appeal.

But prosecutors later said that because her order was not a "final, appealable order" and because Microsoft had yet to be held in contempt, there was no legal reason to enforce the stay.

Preska agreed, saying her order "merely confirmed the government's temporary forbearing of its right to stay enforcement of the order it secured."

She added that "the fact the court has not closed this case cuts against Microsoft's argument" that her order was final and appealable.

The judge ordered both sides to advise by Sept. 5 how to proceed.

"Everyone agrees this case can and will proceed to the appeals court," a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said. "This is simply about finding the appropriate procedure for that to happen."

The case appeared to be the first in which a corporation has challenged a U.S. search warrant seeking data held abroad.

AT&T Inc (T.N), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) submitted briefs supporting Microsoft's opposition to the warrant.

The case is In re: A Warrant to Search a Certain E-Mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-mj-02814.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, additional reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle)

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