US Supreme Court to hear federal case against Microsoft on digital privacy

17 October, 2017, 00:25 | Author: Courtney Perry
  • US-Microsoft Fight on Irish Server Heads to High Court

The Supreme Court will review whether U.S. law enforcement can use search warrants on emails outside the United States, in a case with massive implications for US-based megacorporations that serve countries across the world. It said the decision conflicts with past decisions in lower courts that "a domestic recipient of a subpoena is required to produce specified materials within the recipient's control, even if the recipient stores the materials overseas".

The case involved information stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland that the U.S. government believed it should have access to under warrants issued in the US.

But the Department of Justice says the ruling has severely restricted law enforcement's ability to obtain digital evidence stored on foreign computers.

"The continued reliance on a law passed in 1986 will neither keep people safe nor protect people's rights", Microsoft's chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post about the Supreme Court's decision.

The case is United States v. Microsoft Corp.

The case attracted significant attention from technology and media companies concerned that a ruling favoring the government could jeopardize the privacy of customers and make them less likely to use cloud services because of concern that data could be seized.


Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June. "We will continue to press our case in court that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)-a law enacted decades before there was such a thing as cloud computing-was never meant to reach within other countries' borders".

As predicted, Microsoft's high-profile email privacy case has attracted the U.S. Supreme Court's attention.

While oral argument has not yet been scheduled, the Supreme Court will hear the case sometime in the next year.

In December 2013, the US government issued a warrant in connection with an ongoing criminal narcotics investigation to seize data contained in an email account of a Microsoft customer.

A coalition of 33 US states and Puerto Rico backed the Justice Department's appeal. With so many United States tech companies serving foreign countries, a ruling would have a global impact. Officials obtained a search warrant, but Microsoft refused to turn over the information, taking the matter to court instead.

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