TIME Cuba

What Washington’s Policy Shift Means for Cuba’s Awful Internet Service

Cuba Internet
A Cuban uses an illegal Wi-Fi connection to surf the internet, on November 28, 2014, in Havana. Adalberto Roque—AFP/Getty Images

Part of the new deal involves efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed

The United States’ trade embargo against Cuba began on Oct. 19, 1960. That’s almost exactly nine years to the day before the first link was established on what would eventually evolve into the Internet. Since then, the global web has exploded in complexity and content — but Cuba has largely been left behind, with access that’s slow, censored and available only to few.

A new change in U.S. policy announced this week, however, stands to change all that.

About a quarter of Cubans have Internet access, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency that oversees global communications. One in four may seem decent, especially compared to other isolated nations like North Korea, where its netizens are its most elite. But it turns out that 25% figure doesn’t tell the whole picture.

Most connected Cubans only have access to a Balkanized, government-approved version of the Internet, more akin to a heavily restricted web portal than the open browser you and I use. Freedom House describes the typical Cuban connectivity experience as “a tightly controlled government-filtered intranet, which consists of a national email system, a Cuban encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and open-access journals, Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are supportive of the Cuban government.”

Maps of undersea communications cables tell the story of Cuba’s Internet another way. Only one major submarine cable connects Cuba’s telecommunications networks to the outside world: ALBA-1, owned by a state-run Venezuelan telecom and connecting southeastern Cuba to Venezuela and Jamaica. That cable could be in pretty bad shape, says Fulton Armstrong, a research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, but Armstrong added that he couldn’t verify that first hand.

Tellingly, cables that connect the southeastern U.S. to Central, South and Latin America completely bypass the island nation:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.43.11 PM
TeleGeography

From an engineering perspective, it makes perfect sense to have routed those cables through Cuba. But geopolitics got in the way: the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba meant American companies couldn’t lay pipe into the island, leaving it off the grid as neighbors got online. Cuba has for decades been a member of Soviet/Russian satellite service Intersputnik, but the country didn’t get Internet access until the American telecom provider Sprint set up shop in 1996. Sprint provided a dedicated line connecting the Cuban state Internet provider to Sprint’s U.S. network at 64kbps — just a bit faster than dial-up when running full throttle.

Sprint was able to set up that line thanks to 1992’s Cuban Democracy Act, which authorized American companies “to provide efficient and adequate telecommunications services” between the U.S. and Cuba.” The idea was to ensure that Cubans wouldn’t be entirely cut off from notions of free speech and democracy. But Cuba’s web censorship, combined with its slow speed and high cost, means the Internet hasn’t had a massive impact on its society.

“Only foreign nationals and Castro can afford [Cuba’s Internet],” says Larry Press, a researcher and blogger who covers technology in Cuba. In lieu of the Internet, he says, Cubans buy and sell USB drives loaded with media like American movies and TV shows on the secondary market. New drives with fresh content pop up weekly, Press says. He isn’t sure where the drives come from, but one theory he relayed is that the Cuban government could be allowing them as a means to profit from them. Some Cubans also use illicit Wi-Fi networks to share information locally, but those networks aren’t connected to the wider Internet.

Nevertheless, Cuba’s Internet could be about to get a whole lot better. President Barack Obama unexpectedly announced a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations Wednesday, and part of that deal involves new efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed. Under the policy change, American companies will be able to not only sell some hardware and software to Cuban customers, but they could be encouraged to make investments in infrastructure, too, whether that means building undersea cables or rolling out mobile broadband across the country. Cuba’s Internet, Press says, is a “greenfield,” meaning whatever networks are built won’t be encumbered by pre-existing infrastructure, because so little of it exists. That means Cuba could bypass older, slower technologies and leapfrog right to ultra-fast fiber, for example, provided the will and the funds are there.

“I hope they consider a wide range of infrastructure ownership and control models, looking toward Europe, China, Singapore, South Korea, Google (free DSL or paid fiber), et cetera,” says Press. American University’s Armstrong, meanwhile, says bringing faster Internet to Cuba will “take some time,” with the speed depending on “how fast [the telecoms] and the Cubans negotiate deals and get them off the ground.”

The White House said its new policy will help Cubans communicate more freely, which could accelerate societal change in the Communist country. But it remains to be seen just how much Cuban officials will be willing to open up. China, in particular, has proven that it’s possible to have a flourishing technology sector while still keeping a tight lid on what citizens search for, say and do online. Still, if Congress approves normalizing trade ties with Cuba, that could give Washington economic leverage to make sure Cuba keeps its Internet open. And there’s a chance, however small, that would mean changes offline, too.

“With greater opening and exposure of the Cubans to American culture, music, movies and way of life, I think there might be more demand for greater freedom, which might then encourage the government to loosen up its practices,” says Sanja Kelly, project director at Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s Internet freedom project. However, she cautioned that Cuba’s fate remains in its leaders’ hands: “[Cuba’s] future will ultimately depend on the government’s willingness to change its repressive practices.”

Read next: How Venezuela’s collapse helped thaw Cuban-American relations

TIME Nintendo

Duck Hunt Will Land On Nintendo’s Wii U on Christmas Day

Duck Hunt
Duck Hunt Nintendo

No plastic gun this time

Nintendo has a retro Christmas gift in store for people who own its Wii U console.

Duck Hunt, the legendary fowl-hunting, gun-slinging game originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, is coming to Nintendo’s newest console on Dec. 25. The game will be downloadable on the Wii U’s virtual console, which brings classic Nintendo titles to the system.

The Wii U version of Duck Hunt replaces Nintendo’s classic light gun accessory with the Wii Remote, which players use to shoot birds or clay pigeons bouncing around their screen.

“Test your sharp-shooting skills as your targets take flight in this legendary NES classic,” reads Nintendo’s press release. “Be quick to knock them out of the skies, or your canine companion won’t hesitate to make you the laughing stock of hunters.”

TIME Security

4 Things Every Single Person Can Learn From the Sony Hack

Most importantly: Never email your passwords

The massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that resulted in thousands of employees’ emails and personal data being posted online may have been the work of expert hackers with North Korean support—but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn something from the incident.

Reporting around the Sony hack revealed the company and its employees did little to keep passwords and other sensitive data secure. Here are four things we can all learn about data security from the Sony hack.

Never open suspicious links

While some reports suggest the Sony hackers had inside help, it’s just as likely they accessed Sony’s systems after a hapless employee clicked a suspicious link in what’s called a “phishing” email. Those emails increasingly target specific employees with very personal messages that make it look like they’re from somebody you trust, but clicking the links they contain can result in malware hitting your computer, infecting your company’s network and leaving it vulnerable.

Learn more about phishing emails and how to detect them on this helpful Microsoft site.

Don’t email your passwords

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton’s assistants emailed him unencrypted reminders of his passwords for email, banking and online shopping accounts, according to the Associated Press. How does the AP know that? Because those emails were leaked by the Sony hackers along with troves of other data, exposing Lynton to a serious personal security problem. All a hacker with Lynton’s emails had to do was search the cache for “password,” and voila, tons of access credentials.

If you have to communicate passwords with family members or coworkers, the safest solution is a secure password manager like 1Password or LastPass.

Encrypt your most sensitive data

Every business has sensitive files, like contracts or employees’ medical information. Encryption basically makes files look like a jumbled mess to anyone who doesn’t have the right decoding software, meaning it would have made it much harder for hackers and journalists to get anything useful from Sony’s documents.

Most people don’t go the extra mile and encrypt their private files, but the Sony hack shows we really ought to do that. Lifehacker has a good list of encryption tools here, though top tech companies have increasingly been making encryption the default, especially on mobile devices.

Make sure you’ve got an ace security team

This tip is more for corporate executives than rank-and-file employees, but it’s crucial that your company’s IT team is up to snuff. Sony Pictures CFO David C. Hendler complained about the company’s poor security policies as recently as October, according to emails leaked in the hack. The Sony hack would have caught many companies flat-footed, but having better security and IT practices might have helped Sony ward off the worst of it—and rebuilding after a hack is far harder and costlier than deflecting one to begin with.

TIME Security

Everything We Know About Sony, The Interview and North Korea

What we know, what we don't know, and how a movie got pulled

Sony Pictures Entertainment said late Wednesday that it’s pulling The Interview, a comedy about two journalists tasked with killing North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. Sony’s move came a day after a cryptic message appeared online threatening attacks against theaters that played the film, and several weeks after hackers first breached Sony’s system and posted troves of private emails and other data online.

Shortly after Sony decided to scrub The Interview, a U.S. official confirmed to TIME that American intelligence officials have determined North Korea was behind the Sony hack, though no evidence has been disclosed.

Here’s everything we know for sure about the Sony hack, up until now.

What happened?

On Nov. 24, Sony employees came to work in Culver City, Calif., to find images of grinning red skulls on computer screens. The hackers identified themselves as #GOP, or the Guardians of Peace. They made off with a vast amount of data (reports suggest up to 100 terabytes), wiped company hard drives and began dumping sensitive documents on the Internet.

Among the sensitive information the hackers divulged: salary and personnel records for tens of thousands of employees as well as Hollywood stars; embarrassing email traffic between executives and movie moguls; and several of the studio’s unreleased feature films. More is likely to come, as Sony Pictures Co-Chair Amy Pascal said the hackers got away with every employees’ emails “from the last 10 years.”

MORE: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

And the attack has already affected other companies: Secret acquisitions by photo-sharing app Snapchat, for instance, have been made public thanks to leaked emails from Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, who sits on Snapchat’s board.

Who did it?

That’s the million-dollar question. For a few reasons, suspicion has zeroed in on the North Korean government or a band of allied hacktivists. The hermit kingdom is apoplectic over The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play journalists who land a face-to-face with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, only to be asked by the CIA to assassinate the reclusive leader. The comedy features graphic footage of the dictator’s death, which didn’t go over well in a country built on a hereditary personality cult.

From a forensic perspective, the hack had hallmarks of North Korean influence. The attackers breached Sony’s network with malware that had been compiled on a Korean-language computer. And the effort bore similarities to attacks by a hacking group with suspected ties to North Korea that has carried out attacks on South Korean targets, including a breach of South Korean banks in 2013. That group, which is alternately known in the cybersecurity community as DarkSeoul (after its frequent target) or Silent Chollima (after a mythical winged horse), often uses spear-phishing—a cyber-attack that targets a specific vulnerable user or department on a larger network.

MORE: U.S. sees North Korea as culprit in Sony attack

That does not necessarily mean the North Korean government, or even the same hacker collective, is responsible. In the world of cyberwarfare, hackers will often dissect and imitate successful techniques.

Even the clues that point toward Pyongyang could be diversions to deflect investigators. For example, the perpetrators could’ve manipulated the code or set the computer language to throw suspicion on a convenient culprit. Pyongyang has denied involvement.

Why did Sony scrub The Interview?

People who may or may not have been tied to the hackers posted a vague message Tuesday threatening 9/11-style attacks against theaters that chose to play the film. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there wasn’t any evidence of a credible threat against American movie theaters, but several major chains, including AMC and Regal, decided to play it safe—all told, chains that control about half of the country’s movie screens decided against playing The Interview. Sony then followed suit, pulling the movie entirely.

Were theaters really in danger?

It’s tough to say for sure. North Korea has made lots of bloviating threats toward the U.S. before, so anything that comes out of Pyongyang should be taken with a grain of salt. But again, no concrete proof has been made public yet that these attacks or the threat came from North Korea—or even that they came from the same person or group.

Will we ever get to see The Interview?

Probably. The movie cost about $44 million to make, according to documents leaked by the hackers. The ad campaign so far has cost tens of millions on top of that, although Sony has pulled the plug on further TV spots. A total loss on that investment would be a tough pill for Sony to swallow.

MORE: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s movie critic did

What will most likely happen is some limited release in the future when everything calms down, perhaps bypassing theaters and going right to Blu-Ray/DVD and on-demand services. There’s also a chance Sony could release the film online. That would eliminate pretty much any safety risk to viewers, but could further enrage whoever hacked Sony—assuming they actually care about The Interview and it’s not just a red herring. It would also let Sony capitalize on all the sudden interest in the film generated by the hack and threats. Don’t expect to see it soon: Sony said late Wednesday it’s not planning any kind of release. But it could, of course, be leaked online.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called the hack against Sony “very serious,” but suggested authorities have yet to find any credibility in the threat of attacks against theaters.

“For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies,” Obama said.

How did the hackers do it?

We don’t know exactly. Cyber-security experts say the initial breach could have occurred through a simple phishing or spearfishing attempt, in which the hackers find a soft spot in the company’s network defenses. That can be a coding error or an employee who clicks on an infected link. These breaches occur all the time. FireEye, the parent company of the cybersecurity firm Sony hired to probe the hack, studied the network security of more than 1,200 banks, government agencies and manufacturers over a six-month period ending in 2014, and found that 97% had their last line of defense breached at some point by hackers.

“Breaches are inevitable,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. “But that just means they’ve gotten in the door. It doesn’t mean they’ll be able to walk out with the crown jewels or set fire to the building.”

Once inside, hackers will try to gain elevated security privileges to spread across the network. What made the Sony hack different was the fact that it wasn’t detected until large quantities of data had been swiped. And what stood out, several analysts say, was not the sophistication of the breach but the havoc the culprits sought to wreak. “The attack was very targeted, very well thought out,” says Mike Fey of the network-security firm Blue Coat Systems, who believes the hackers “planned and orchestrated” the attack for months.

What are investigators doing to find out who’s responsible?

Sony has brought in experts at Mandiant, a top security firm, to lead the probe of the hack. Their investigation, outside security experts say, will be similar in some ways to the forensic analysis that follow a murder: studying data logs, reviewing network communications, poring over code, matching clues to potential motives. It may involve probing bulletin boards on the Dark Web, where hackers sometimes go to seek advice on technical troubles.

“There’s a lot of detective work you can do,” says former Department of Justice cybercrime prosecutor Mark Rasch. “Are they native English speakers? What programming language do they use? The code will have styles, signatures and tells.”

And investigators are tracking the IP addresses from which the attack was launched, which in the case of the Sony hack included infected computers in locations ranging from Thailand to Italy.

What happens if it was North Korea?

It’s tough to say. It’s unprecedented for a state actor to conduct a cyberattack of this scale against a U.S. corporation. If that turns out to be the case, however the U.S. decides to respond will set the tone for a whole new kind of cyberwar.

Could the Sony hack happen to other companies?

It’s increasingly likely. Sony is unusual in large part because the attackers appear to have been driven by a desire to cause destruction, rather than financial motives. And the strange geopolitical overtones of the hack add a dollop of intrigue. “It’s a milestone because it’s such a large-scale destructive attack that is rooted in this bizarre political messaging,” says security researcher Kurt Baumgartner of Kaspersky Lab.

But cyber-warfare is a growing threat for which most companies are ill-prepared. Joseph Demarest, assistant director in the FBI’s cyber division, testified to a Senate panel earlier this month that the malware used in the Sony hack “probably [would have] gotten past 90% of the net defenses that are out there today in private industry.” Banks and government agencies tend to have better security, but in recent months major retailers like Target and Home Depot have been hit. When targeted by competent and persistent hackers, corporate defenses will often be outmatched. “This is a great wakeup call,” says Kevin Haley, a director at Symantec Security Response. “We need to get better at securing our organizations.”

-Additional reporting by Sam Frizell

Read next: You Can’t See ‘The Interview,’ but I Did

TIME Media

Sony Pulls The Interview After Threats

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta.
A poster for the movie The Interview is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta David Goldman—AP

Movie won't be released after an unknown group threatened 9/11-style attacks over the film

Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview on Wednesday after an unknown person or group threatened to attack theaters that played the film. Sony’s decision comes after several major theater chains backed out of showing the film in light of the threats.

“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

MORE: 3 Reasons People Think North Korea Hacked Sony

The threats, which warned of 9/11-style attacks against theaters showing The Interview, may have come from the same people responsible for hacking Sony Pictures late last month. Thousands of Sony employees’ emails and personal data have been posted online as a result of the hack, and Sony is still reeling from its effects.

It isn’t yet clear who hacked Sony or threatened the theaters, though some analysts have pointed fingers at North Korea. Pyongyang is furious over The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about TV journalists asked to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But no clear link to North Korea has been established, and the government has denied responsibility for the hack.

TIME Smartphones

BlackBerry Just Announced the Ultimate Dad Phone

BlackBerry Classic
BlackBerry Classic, BlackBerry Passport, BlackBerry Bold BlackBerry

The BlackBerry Classic is the anti-iPhone

BlackBerry’s new BlackBerry Classic, unveiled Wednesday, looks just like the BlackBerry your dad used to use — and that means your dad’s going to love it.

These days, most smartphone makers have ditched hardware keyboards in favor of bigger touchscreen real estate. But that doesn’t mean everybody wants touchscreen keyboards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business-types in particular lament over their long-lost BlackBerry and its keyboard, like the BlackBerry Bold above to the right.

That means the long-flagging BlackBerry has an opening, however small, to differentiate itself from Apple, Samsung and its other competitors by going long on the keyboard for customers who want one. That’s exactly what it’s doing with the Classic, seen above left, which it’s is pitching as a no-frills, all-business communications machine that’s comfortably similar to your old BlackBerry.

“BlackBerry Classic is the powerful communications tool that many BlackBerry Bold and Curve users have been waiting for,” said BlackBerry CEO John Chen in a statement that sounds like it’s meant for people who fondly reminisce over their BlackBerry days. “It’s the secure device that feels familiar in their hands, with the added performance and agility they need to be competitive in today’s busy world.”

The BlackBerry Classic boasts a 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, 2 gigs of RAM, 16GB of storage that’s expandable to 128GB and two cameras, an 8MP in the back and a 2MP up front. Those aren’t the most impressive specs, but if you’re the kind of smartphone buyer who just needs an email and text machine, they’ll do just fine. And while the Classic may be a step backwards innovation-wise from the interesting (if a little weird) BlackBerry Passport seen above in the middle, that’s exactly the point. BlackBerry’s past may just be its future.

TIME Media

These Are the Theaters That Have Pulled The Interview After Threat

Law enforcement says there's no credible threat

An increasing number of movie theaters and chains are deciding not to show Sony Pictures Entertainment’s The Interview, following a threat believed to come from the same group claiming responsibility for a devastating hack against Sony.

The Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike theater chains won’t show The Interview until federal law enforcement groups finish their investigation of the threats made against the film, the Wall Street Journal reported citing anonymous sources Wednesday. Those chains control nearly half of the movie screens in the U.S., according to the Journal.

NBC News previously reported that Carmike had decided to pull the plug on The Interview. Deadline reported late Tuesday that California’s ArcLight Cinemas, which runs five theaters across the state, also won’t show the film, but a spokesperson later said no official decision had yet been made.

Meanwhile, Landmark Cinemas has cancelled The Interview’s New York City premiere, which was set for Thursday evening. That cancellation comes as the film’s co-stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, already backed out of several media events around the films.

The threat, which may or may not have come from the same people who hacked Sony Pictures, intimated at the possibility of attacks on theaters that choose to show the movie, a completely fictional comedy about journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” read the message, with “the places” apparently referring to theaters showing the film. The message also invoked the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

While Sony is at this point going ahead with the film’s Christmas Day release, sources told NBC News that the company won’t punish theaters that back out. The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, has said there’s no “credible intelligence” regarding an attack on movie theaters in the U.S.

The threat also coincided with a new release of Sony employees’ emails, several weeks after hackers breached Sony Pictures’ systems and posted troves of company and employee confidential data online. Early reports linked the hacks to North Korea, which is reportedly furious over The Interview’s plot about killing the North Korean leader. However, North Korea denied conducting the attack, and the little evidence thus far tying the country to the incident is circumstantial.

The total fallout of the Sony attack is still incalculable, but it could amount to the most damaging corporate cyberattack in history.

Read next: 3 Reasons People Think North Korea Hacked Sony

TIME Security

Delta Says Boarding Pass Hack Had No Impact on Flight Safety

US-TRANSPORTATION-AVIATION-DELTA
A Delta Airlines jet takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport February 21, 2013 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

The flaw was discovered Monday

Delta Airlines said Tuesday that a security vulnerability on its mobile boarding passes has been fixed without causing any “impact to flight safety.”

The boarding pass vulnerability was first found Monday by a BuzzFeed intern who also runs a site about technologists. In a post on Medium, Dani Grant detailed how she was able to access other passengers’ boarding passes simply by changing a single digit in her pass’ URL. She was also able to log in to Delta’s site as those other passengers, from which point she could’ve changed their seating assignments or accessed other details about them.

Grant was also able to access boarding passes belonging to non-Delta passengers, most likely because airlines share some technology that powers mobile boarding passes.

“After a possible issue with our mobile boarding passes was discovered late Monday, our IT teams quickly put a solution in place this morning to prevent it from occurring,” Delta spokesperson Paul Skrbec said Tuesday afternoon. Delta is still investigating the problem, but Skrbec’s statement added that Delta is “not aware of any compromised customer accounts.”

It’s unlikely that the flaw could have posed a threat to aviation safety. While Grant suggested on Twitter that it would have been possible to take advantage of the vulnerability for nefarious purposes, airport safety procedures should have prevented any security lapses.

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile Now Lets You Roll Over Your Unused Data

T-Mobile
A Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile logo hangs under pink umbrellas at the stand of the German telecommunications giant at the 2014 CeBIT computer technology trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany. John Macdougall—AFP/Getty Images

For customers who buy additional data on top of their plans

We’ve all been there: Every month, a slice of our mobile data plan goes unused, only to disappear into the ether forever at the end of the month. Now, one carrier aims to put an end to that.

T-Mobile will start rolling over customers’ unused data from month-to-month, the carrier announced Tuesday. That unused data will get added to what T-Mobile is calling a “Data Stash,” where customers can use it for up to a year to avoid going over their plan’s monthly data limits.

“With Data Stash, when you buy additional high-speed data, there’s no need to lose what you don’t use,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement.

T-Mobile is rolling out Data Stash for customers on “Simple Choice” plans who buy at least 3GB of additional smartphone data or 1GB of additional tablet data above their plan’s base rate. Qualifying T-Mobile customers will start out with 10GB of data in their Stash.

T-Mobile has a history of making bold moves to shake up the wireless carrier industry, like offering to pay competitors’ early termination fees for customers who switch to the service before their contracts are up. T-Mobile’s competitors, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, have often followed T-Mobile’s moves, but it remains to be seen if they’ll play ball this time: Overage fees charged to customers who exceed their monthly data limits are a lucrative source of income for wireless carriers. T-Mobile’s aim here is most likely to forego some of those fees in favor of attracting rivals’ customers fed up with overage charges.

The Data Stash announcement came during T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier 8.0″ event, during which the company also touted its recent speed improvements to wireless broadband services in several cities, including New York.

TIME legal

Why Microsoft, Apple, Fox News and NPR Are Suddenly Working Together

Microsoft
The Microsoft logo is displayed over the Microsoft booth at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Hilton January 7, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Microsoft is fighting a U.S. warrant to turn over emails stored in Ireland

It’s not every day you see Microsoft and Apple or Fox News and NPR going to bat for the same team — but that’s exactly what’s happening now, in a case that could have big consequences for American tech and media companies.

Last December, a Federal judge granted U.S. investigators a warrant to access a Microsoft user’s emails, stored in a data center in Dublin, Ireland, in relation to an investigation. Microsoft said no way, arguing the U.S. government has no right to issue a warrant for emails stored abroad.

Microsoft has good reason to reject the government’s demands here: If would-be Microsoft customers outside the U.S. start thinking their emails are subject to U.S. warrants, they might think twice about becoming Microsoft customers. Indeed, top tech firms have already lost big overseas contracts over fears that American services are subject to National Security Agency snooping.

Microsoft has yet to convince any court to overturn the original warrant. A magistrate first ruled against Microsoft’s challenge in April. The company got another defeat in August when U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska found that it wasn’t a matter of where Microsoft stored the emails, but rather where Microsoft and the user in question were themselves based.

However, Microsoft still refused to hand over the user’s emails. The company filed a new appeal last week, arguing that a ruling against Microsoft threatens the privacy of foreign users and Americans alike as more people choose to store their emails and other sensitive documents in off-site cloud servers instead of local hard drives.

“We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote Monday. “In contrast, the U.S. Government’s unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk.”

And that’s where Microsoft’s strange bedfellows come into play. Rival tech companies like Apple, Amazon and HP, as well as news organizations from across the political spectrum like CNN, Fox News, NPR and The Guardian, have all signed amicus briefs supporting Microsoft’s fight to keep its users’ emails away from the U.S. government. It may seem weird for these companies to work together on just about anything else, but it makes sense here: technology companies have a business interest in keeping users’ communications private, while media outlets don’t want their reporters’ messages to fall into the government’s hands.

“The government’s position . . . will significantly deter the use of remote data management technologies by businesses and individuals, particularly their use of U.S. cloud services providers, and thereby undermine a significant contributor to U.S. economic growth,” reads an amicus brief filed in the case by the Business Software Alliance, a trade group that counts Microsoft, Apple, Intel and other top tech companies as members. “There is no basis in law for the extraordinary result sought by the United States.”

Whatever happens in the Microsoft case, then, could have big privacy implications for businesses and users alike. There probably won’t be a resolution until late 2015 at the earliest, but some observers expect this one to wind up all the way at the Supreme Court.

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