US Supreme Court agrees to resolve Microsoft foreign email battle

Posted October 17, 2017

Microsoft appeared to have been victorious, but the US Supreme Court has now agreed to make a final decision on the matter, following a petition from the US Department of Justice.

The case began in 2013, when USA prosecutors got a warrant to access emails in a drug trafficking investigation.

Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first USA company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country. Finally, Smith argued that if the US government acts unilaterally to seize emails located overseas with search warrants, there is little to stop foreign governments from exercising the same maneuver on data stored in the United States. The closely watched case, at least among cloud providers and data privacy advocates, was hailed as a major win for Microsoft at the time. In a new step, today, it was announced that the US Supreme Court will hear the Microsoft's Irish email access case as part of a review of Microsoft's recent victory.

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Earlier this year Google lost a battle with the U.S. government and was ordered to hand over data stored overseas. The Justice Department says that this ruling has hampered its investigative abilities in the digital age.

It contradicts the basic premise that before a USA statute reaches across another country's borders, it should be clear that's what Congress intended when it passed the law. The law authorizes search warrants when there is probable cause that the emails are evidence of a federal crime. The full 2nd Circuit split on whether to rehear the case.

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.

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

In 2010, the Justice Department and 17 states sued several credit card companies, saying that their steering practices had violated the antitrust laws. No further details about the investigation have been made public.

Finding that current laws were "for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud" Microsoft is also urging members of Congress to pass new legislation, mainly the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) of 2017. In 2012, the court held that a warrant is required to place a Global Positioning System tracking device on a vehicle.

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Both Microsoft and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which ruled in favor of Microsoft last year) see it very differently.