Tech Giants Join Microsoft's Privacy Fight Against Justice Department

Apple, Amazon, Verizon, AT&T, and others want to keep the U.S. using search warrants to seize private data stored overseas.

Microsoft is getting some reinforcements in its battle with the Justice Department over access to emails stored on servers overseas.

Verizon, Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Cisco, eBay, HP, Infor, Salesforce, and Rackspace on Monday all signed on to legal briefs urging a federal appeals court to throw out the Justice Department's warrant. The companies argued that U.S. prosecutors have no authority to seize the emails, which are stored in Ireland.

Business associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and BSA-the Software Alliance as well as civil-liberties groups including the Center for Democracy & Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also filed briefs supporting Microsoft. CNN, ABC, Fox News, The Washington Post, and other media outlets also sided with Microsoft in legal briefs.

Since the Edward Snowden leaks last year revealed the vast scope of U.S. surveillance, tech companies have been struggling to convince foreign customers that their information can be kept private.

One brief from Verizon and other companies warned that if the warrant against Microsoft is enforced, it would damage U.S. businesses, violate international agreements, and potentially lead other countries to retaliate by seizing private information of Americans.

"Collectively these briefs make one conclusion unmistakably clear. This case involves not a narrow legal question, but a broad policy issue that is fundamental to the future of global technology," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post applauding the other companies and groups for filing their briefs.

The Justice Department has claimed that any company with operations in the U.S. has to comply with search warrants, even if the actual data is in another country. Microsoft argues that the U.S. has to work through a legal treaty with Ireland to get access to the information. The details of the case are secret.

In July, a federal judge in New York agreed with the government and ordered Microsoft to turn over the emails. Microsoft has now appealed that ruling to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

AT&T and some of the other companies had already weighed in on Microsoft's side when its case was at the district court level. Smith said that the additional companies and organizations who filed briefs Monday "reflect the continuing growth in concerns" about the Justice Department's bid for overseas data.

Smith argued that, regardless of the outcome of Microsoft's legal battle, Congress and the Obama administration should update privacy laws so that people in the U.S. and other countries can trust their information is safe from prying eyes.