The Supreme Court will review whether USA 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. The government contends a USA -based company that receives a subpoena must turn over materials within its control, even if the materials are stored overseas.
The DOJ is appealing a lower court ruling that said federal prosecutors couldn't obtain emails stored on overseas Microsoft servers as part of a drug trafficking investigation.
Microsoft turned over information it had stored domestically but contended USA law enforcement couldn't seize evidence held in another country.
"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. Further, the DOJ's efforts create a conflict with regional data privacy laws affecting cloud and online services providers. Microsoft refused to turn over the emails associated with the account, which were stored on servers in Ireland, spurring a legal battle that has dragged on for four years. 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 court will hear arguments early next year and rule by June.
In December 2013, the USA government issued a warrant in connection with an ongoing criminal narcotics investigation to seize data contained in an email account of a Microsoft customer.
In the Microsoft dispute, the Justice Department asked the appeals court to rehear the case but in January the full court split 4-4 on whether to do so, leaving the original decision intact.
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.
In the appeals court, Microsoft was supported by dozens of technology and media companies including Amazon, Apple, CNN and Verizon Communications, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group.