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US Supreme Court Keeps Microsoft Ireland Email Case Alive

17 October 2017

This case was occasioned in December 2013, when federal investigators obtained a warrant for emails held at Microsoft's datacenter in Dublin, Ireland under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).

The DoJ has argued that it should have a right to access data stored overseas in order to protect against national security threats, while Microsoft viewed this approach as reaching too far and with ramifications for reciprocal rulings with other countries. "And the growing privacy concerns of customers around the world mean that granting USA law-enforcement agencies that broad authority would hamstring US companies' ability to compete in the multibillion-dollar cloud computing industry".

Microsoft turned over information it had stored domestically but contended USA law enforcement couldn't seize evidence held in another country.

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The case asks the justices to decide if an email service provider must surrender electronic communications held in foreign countries for which a warrant was issued. The Microsoft customer in question had told the company he was based in Ireland when he signed up for his account.

The justices will review a federal appeals ruling that the Trump administration says has become a major obstacle in criminal probes. Redmond argued that a U.S. warrant does not extend beyond America's borders.

The Supreme Court will review the case United States v. Microsoft Corp.

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Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June. The full 2nd Circuit split on whether to rehear the case.

Microsoft says its policy at the time of the search warrant was to store email content in the data center nearest to the customer's self-declared country of residence, while keeping account information on USA servers. Already, Google Inc. and Yahoo, acquired by Verizon Communications Inc., have stopped complying with search warrants for emails and other user data stored outside the country, the Justice Department said.

A coalition of 33 US states and Puerto Rico backed the Justice Department's appeal.

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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. No further details about the investigation have been made public. The tech company refused, and in July 2016, an appeals court ruled in its favor, concluding that the Stored Communications Act did not apply to the communications stored overseas. In 2012, the court held that a warrant is required to place a Global Positioning System tracking device on a vehicle. Microsoft challenged the warrant in 2014, arguing that prosecutors could not force it to hand over its customer's emails stored overseas.

US Supreme Court Keeps Microsoft Ireland Email Case Alive