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The Case That Has Microsoft, Apple and Amazon Agreeing for Once

  • Company's general counsel targets `government snooping'
  • Some clients may not use cloud services if U.S. wins case
Microsoft has been among the most aggressive in the industry in challenging the U.S. on its access to customers’ information.
Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Microsoft Corp. responded swiftly to a pre-dawn fax from the FBI in January. The two terrorists who killed a dozen people at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris had Microsoft e-mail accounts stored on servers in the U.S., and 45 minutes later their contents were en route to the agency, to be shared with French authorities.

The company hasn’t always been so eager to comply. A year earlier, it rebuffed a request from the Department of Justice for a suspected drug trafficker’s e-mails. Those were in a data center in Dublin -- and according to Microsoft, the arm of American law enforcement doesn’t extend to Ireland. That set in motion a legal challenge putting Microsoft and its general counsel, Brad Smith, in the lead of a charged battle between the U.S. technology industry and the U.S. government. Microsoft has lost twice. In seven days its lawyers will make their arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York.