US officials can force Microsoft to hand over a customer's email stored in an Ireland data center, a federal judge said yesterday. In her ruling, US District Judge Loretta A. Preska said she agreed with the findings of the magistrate judge who had earlier approved a search warrant for an email account that Microsoft stores in Dublin, Ireland.

"It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information", Preska said after a two-hour court hearing in New York, adding that Microsoft can turn over the required information to the US law enforcement without intruding on the foreign sovereignty of Ireland. She, however, stayed the effect of her ruling to give the company time to appeal.

The case centers on the prosecution of a drug trafficker, with prosecutors demanding Microsoft to hand over his emails stored in the company's server in Dublin, without going through existing international treaties, arguing that using the treaties would be too "cumbersome".

On the other hand, Microsoft argues that rulings forcing it to turn over emails stored outside of the US not only threaten the Constitution's protections against illegal search and seizure, but could also damage US foreign relations. Microsoft's attorney E. Joshua Rosenkranz said that the search warrant amounts to the extension of US law enforcement authority to another country, warning that other countries could reciprocate in the same manner.

Other large technology companies like Apple, Cisco, Verizon, and AT&T have also backed the Redmond, Washington-based company's arguments in this case.

Microsoft will appeal the ruling, said Brad Smith, the company's general counsel and executive vice president, legal and corporate affairs. "We will continue to advocate that people's email deserves strong privacy protection in the US and around the world".