The Supreme Court on Monday accepted a second important case on digital privacy, agreeing to hear a dispute between the federal government and Microsoft about emails stored overseas.
The case began in 2013, when U.S. prosecutors got a warrant to access emails in a drug trafficking investigation. The data was stored on Microsoft servers in Ireland.
Microsoft turned over information it had stored domestically but contended U.S. law enforcement couldn’t seize evidence held in another country. It said if forced to do so, it would lead to claims from other countries about data stored here.
A judge upheld the warrant, but a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned the ruling. The full circuit then split evenly on whether that decision was correct.
The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to reverse the lower courts. It said the decision conflicts with past decisions in lower courts that “a domestic recipient of a subpoena is required to produce specified materials within the recipient’s control, even if the recipient stores the materials abroad.”
But Microsoft contends that the Stored Communications Act of 1986 did not imagine a world in which “a technician in Redmond, Washington, could access a customer’s private emails stored clear across the globe.”
The corporate giant noted that the Justice Department has asked Congress to amend the law to address just that issue.
“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 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.
The case granted Monday is U.S. v. Microsoft.