The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case pitting Microsoft versus the Justice Department over data privacy rights. The case is seen as pivotal in deciding whether the U.S. government has the right to secure data stored overseas from tech companies.
The legal tussle dates back to 2013, when Microsoft was served with a domestic warrant for emails stored in a datacenter located in Ireland as part of a drug trafficking case. Microsoft fought the order, arguing that U.S. law doesn't grant the government the right to access private information stored abroad and that it should instead work with the Irish government to secure the data in question. The Justice Department argues that Microsoft should be forced to turn over the data because it is headquartered in the U.S.
An appeals court sided with Microsoft in 2016, leading the Justice Department to petition the Supreme Court to take up the case.
According to Reuters, Supreme Court Justices appeared divided on the issue. Conservative Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito appeared partial to the government's argument. Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor suggested that, because Congress is considering legislation to resolve the issue, action by the court may not be needed.
Ahead of today's hearing, Brad Smith, Microsoft's President and Chief Legal Officer, weighed in on the issue, arguing in a blog post (opens in new tab) that Congress should solve the issue by enacting laws built for the 21st century. From Smith:
Congress has introduced the CLOUD Act, bi-partisan legislation that Microsoft says would create "both the incentive and the framework for governments to sit down and negotiate modern bi-lateral agreements that will define how law enforcement agencies can access data across borders to investigate crimes."
A decision in the case is due by the end of June.
Forget the technical niceties. If Microsoft has control over the data -- it does -- then both the data and Microsoft are subject to the court’s subpoena power. A subpoena is the only effective means we have to get to the truth -- wherever it may lie.
It isn't that simple. What if the foreign country's laws forbid MS to release the data to the US? Can the US government force a company to violate another country's laws in that country? What if it was a company which owned storage facilities around the world and you had them store something for you in Ireland. Would the fact that they were headquartered in the US mean they would have to release your stuff to the US government? Just because the information can be accessed from US soil doesn't mean that it should be released to the US government. I agree with MS stance on this, work with the foreign government to secure the data.
@George Kafantaris. Actually you are wrong that in presumption. It's a simple principle of locality, what happens if a government outside the US is pursuing a case and the data resides in the US. By the argument used by the DOJ, they could argue as Microsoft has and does business in their country then they can force Microsoft to hand that data over as opposed to going through the appropriate channels. In such cases it's where law enforcement and intelligence agencies comingle with other relevant agencies across localities. Also as @GizmoEV pointed out handing data out not in the jurisdiction of the US government can breach local / regional laws.
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