US Supreme Court agrees to resolve Microsoft foreign email battle

US Supreme Court agrees to resolve Microsoft foreign email battle

Darren Sullivan
October 17, 2017

Last July Microsoft seemingly won a court scrap with United States law enforcement, meaning that data stored in foreign datacentres could not be seized under current legislation for criminal investigations.

The ruling came in a case involving emails stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland.

In today's blog post, Smith argued that the issue belongs in Congress.

Though Microsoft is based in Washington state, the court said the emails were beyond the reach of US domestic search warrants issued under a 1986 law called the Stored Communications Act. The full 2nd Circuit split on whether to rehear the case. His lawyers said that because the United States was not engaged in "hostilities" with al Qaeda, the militant Islamist group that carried out the bombing, at the time of the attack, his acts were not crimes of war.

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.

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"Execution of a US warrant to seize documents in a foreign country is precisely the kind of foreign incursion that the presumption against extraterritoriality was created to prohibit, absent clear authorization by Congress", Microsoft said. They don't believe that laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act were meant to reach beyond American borders, and that this creates conflicts with privacy laws in Europe and other corners of the world.

The Supreme Court last week declined to hear another Guantanamo case, leaving in place the last remaining conviction of a Yemeni man, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, who was an al Qaeda publicist.

The Justice Department says the logic behind the appeals court decision would apply even if the account holder were a US citizen living and committing crimes in this country.

The Justice Department filed a motion to take the case to the Supreme Court in June.

In the underlying case, the government in 2013 sought a warrant requiring information about a Microsoft email account that prosecutors believed was being used for narcotics trafficking. In 2012, the court held that a warrant is required to place a Global Positioning System tracking device on a vehicle.