America’s effort to rule the digital world

Evgeny Morozov writes: [To] grasp the full extent of America’s hypocrisy on the issue of information sovereignty, one needs to look no further than the ongoing squabble between Microsoft and the US government. It concerns some email content – relevant to an investigation – stored on Microsoft’s servers in Ireland. American prosecutors insist that they can obtain such content from Microsoft simply by serving it a warrant – as if it makes no difference that the email is stored in a foreign country.

In order to obtain it, Washington would normally need to go through a complex legal process involving bilateral treaties between the governments involved. But now it wants to sidestep that completely and treat the handling of such data as a purely local issue with no international implications. The data resides in cyberspace – and cyberspace knows no borders!

The government’s reasoning here is that the storage issue is irrelevant; what is relevant is where the content is accessed – and it can be accessed by Microsoft’s employees in the US. Microsoft and other tech giants are now fighting the US government in courts, with little success so far, while the Irish government and a handful of European politicians are backing Microsoft.

In short, the US government insists that it should have access to data regardless of where it is stored as long as it is handled by US companies. Just imagine the outcry if the Chinese government were to demand access to any data that passes through devices manufactured by Chinese companies – Xiaomi, say, or Lenovo – regardless of whether their users are in London or New York or Tokyo. Note the crucial difference: Russia and China want to be able to access data generated by their citizens on their own soil, whereas the US wants to access data generated by anybody anywhere as long as American companies handle it.

In opposing the efforts of other countries to reclaim a modicum of technological sovereignty, Washington is likely to run into a problem it has already encountered while promoting its nebulous “internet freedom” agenda: its actions speak louder than its words. [Continue reading…]

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