October 16, 2017 Last Updated 9:16 am

Supreme Court takes up Microsoft case involving data stored on foreign servers

Other techs such as Apple and Amazon have a vested interest in case, as much of their data is stored abroad, and foreign governments could force their own companies to bring data home should the court decided prosecutors can force Microsoft to comply with warrant

The US Supreme Court has decided to take up a case involving Microsoft and emails that are stored overseas. The case is seen to have major implications regarding privacy, cloud computing, and how foreign governments might look at data storage in the future.

The case involves a situation where the government wanted access to emails in a drug trafficking investigation. Prosecutors asked for a warrant to demand the subject’s emails, but Microsoft turned over only those stored domestically, refusing to hand over those stored on a server in Ireland. A judge granted the prosecutors a warrant, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned the ruling. Now the government is appealing.

This is another of those sticky situations where the courts are being asked to rule and where the consequences of the ruling may go far beyond what the justices imagine.

The Justice Department contends that the courts have already ruled that companies are required to produce the requested materials, even if the material is stored abroad. Microsoft says that the law did not envision a situation where “a customer’s private emails stored clear across the globe.”

“If US law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” Microsoft said in a blog post.

“We believe that people’s privacy rights should be protected by the laws of their own countries and we believe that information stored in the cloud should have the same protections as paper stored in your desk. Therefore, Congress needs to modernise the law and address these fundamental issues.”

“No matter how the case is decided, there are potential negative implications for U.S. competitiveness,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“If the court supports the use of search warrants to obtain data stored abroad, it will feed the perception that the best way to protect data from the prying eyes of the U.S. government is to store it abroad with a non-U.S. provider. On the other hand, if the court rules that search warrants cannot be used overseas, foreign governments may try to force companies to store data within their borders to make it impossible for U.S. officials to execute a search warrant. This also damages U.S. tech competitiveness because barriers to the free flow of information impede digital innovation,” Castro said.

Microsoft has the rest of the tech community on its side, with Apple, Amazon and others supporting its position. But the Trump administration, with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, is expected to take a hardline on law and order issues.

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