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SCOTUS Accepts Case Over Microsoft Emails Stored Abroad

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the petition to hear arguments in the United States v. Microsoft case, which is the biggest digital privacy case of the term. The question being presented to the High Court is as follows:

Whether a United States provider of email services must comply with a probable-cause based warrant issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703 by making disclosure in the United States of electronic communications within that provider's control, even if the provider has decided to store that material abroad.

Basically, the government is making one last final effort in the fight to force Microsoft to turn over information stored on foreign soil via a valid search warrant issued by a U.S. court.

Why This Matters?

While the case against Microsoft is based upon legal principles, the underlying case involved a search warrant in a drug case. The government obtained a valid warrant for Microsoft to turn over certain emails. But, Microsoft contends that the U.S. law does not apply to data stored outside the U.S.'s jurisdiction.

While, at first blush, it may not look great for Microsoft to be helping someone charged with a drug crime, the legal principles behind it actually turns this case into positive PR for the company. Tech companies know that consumers will be more willing to trust their services and products if the company fights for the rights of users.

Foriegn Policy Favors

The government contends that it has the authority to compel U.S. companies to turn over information that isn't stored locally because it can be controlled by the company. And while this makes sense, as Ars Technica aptly points out, this can lead to international strife as a U.S. court order to produce information stored abroad could violate the laws of the nation where the information is stored.

But, as Microsoft's chief legal officer explained, if the U.S. can access the emails stored abroad, what's to stop other countries from accessing the emails stored in the U.S. But on that note, currently, Congress is working on creating reciprocity agreements to allow nations to access data stored abroad, so long as a valid warrant has issued.

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