Supreme Court will hear challenge to Microsoft's data privacy case


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Department of Justice's petition to review the case, virtually guaranteeing that the case will set the basis for how United States law enforcement can access data overseas. After concluding that the emails investigators sought were located on one of its servers in Ireland, Microsoft refused to hand over the information, arguing that a U.S. judge has no authority to hand out warrants for search and seizure of property or data overseas.

"The government was right to appeal to Congress for the same reason it is wrong to ask this court to intervene now: Under this court's settled extraterritoriality doctrine, revising a federal statute to account for the globalization of data is a job for Congress, not courts", the company wrote.

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. There have been several similar challenges, most brought by Google.

At issue is a decision a year ago that has severely restricted law enforcement's ability to acquire digital evidence stored on computers outside the United States - a limit that has held back criminal investigations all over the country. But the Supreme Judicial Court said that the law "does not stand in the way of Yahoo doing so".

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.

The current state of the law doesn't mean that U.S. law enforcement has no access to data stored on foreign servers.

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Microsoft released all of the information stored in the United States, but refused to do the same for emails hosted in Ireland.

The justices already are scheduled to consider in December whether police need a warrant to access cellphone location data held by wireless service providers., another major case involving digital privacy. Redmond argued that a United States warrant does not extend beyond America's borders.

The Supreme Court hearing is set to begin in early 2018, with a ruling expected by the end of June.

Several court rulings have upheld Microsoft's argument, but the full 2nd Circuit Court ruling was split 4-4.

The Supreme Judicial Court tossed the lower court ruling and returned it for further consideration. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found against the Government on this issue.