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    Courthouse News Service: U.S. Privacy Laws Also Extend to Noncitizens

    Courthouse News Service reports on a case (Suzlon Energy Ltd. vs. Microsoft Corp., D.C. No. 2:10-cv-0170-MJP) concerning U.S. privacy laws and foreign nationals:

    A federal law that protects the privacy of emails and other electronic communications extends to foreign nationals, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday, allowing Microsoft to protect the emails of an Indian citizen accused of fraud in Australia.

    Indian wind-power company Suzlon Energy wants Microsoft to hand over emails from the Hotmail account of Rajagopalan Sridhar, whom Suzlon is suing for civil fraud in Australia. The energy company has accused Sridhar, who is currently in prison, of diverting profits, transferring company funds to Swiss bank accounts and other financial malfeasance.

    A Seattle federal judge initially granted Suzlon’s request but then changed its tune after Microsoft filed a motion to quash. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman eventually agreed with Microsoft that Sridhar’s email account is protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), even though he is foreign citizen.

    With a simple reading of the law’s text, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed unanimously. […]

    “While the parties in this case raise issues of international policy, constitutional rights, and the fortuities of the Internet age, this case ultimately turns on the plain language of the relevant statute,” wrote U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, sitting on the Seattle-based panel by designation from Santa Ana, Calif.

    And that “plain language” says that the ECPA protects “any person.”

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