Supreme Court to Hear Microsoft Digital Privacy Case

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Microsoft will argue its digital privacy case in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 27, 2018. The case, United States v. Microsoft Corp., started in 2013 when the federal government served Microsoft with a warrant to their corporate headquarters, located in Redmond, Washington. The warrant requested emails and other electronic data for an account that prosecutors believed was part of a criminal drug trafficking enterprise. While Microsoft turned over the information it had stored on its American servers, it did not turn over information stored on a server in Ireland.

Initially, Microsoft was held in contempt by the court for refusing to provide the information held on the Irish server. However, Microsoft filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and won.

U.S. Court of Appeals Agreed with Microsoft

In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision in favor of Microsoft and invalidated the warrant. In their opinion, the Court held that Section 2703 of the Stored Communications Act doesn’t give courts the ability to issue and enforce a warrant for data held on a server outside of the United States even if the parent company that owns the server is a U.S. based business.

Microsoft Believes Stored Communications Act Is Outdated

Microsoft’s President and lawyer, Brad Smith, believes that the Stored Communications Act is outdated and shouldn’t be used to provide the federal government with access to digital information outside of the United States.

In a blog post authored by Smith in October of 2017, he wrote “If the U.S. government can unilaterally use a warrant to seize emails outside the United States, what’s to stop other governments from acting unilaterally to seize emails stored inside the United States?”

US Justice Department: Microsoft Is Hurting a Criminal Investigation

The federal government’s core argument against Microsoft is that their refusal to turn over the data from the Irish server is detrimental to their criminal investigation. They argue that the actual location of the data shouldn’t matter since it can be accessed within the United States “with the click of a mouse.”

To follow this case and read accompanying material, visit SCOTUSblog.

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