US Supreme Court agrees to hear Microsoft's Irish email access case

Though Microsoft is based in Washington state, the court said the emails were beyond the reach of USA domestic search warrants issued under a 1986 law called the Stored Communications Act.

A NY district court and the DOJ contend that companies, not users, own data stored overseas - in this case, email held in an Irish data center.

The ruling came in a case involving emails stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland. A lower court ruled previous year that it did does not, meaning that the Justice Department needs to follow the same procedures used to obtain physical evidence stored outside the United States.

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to reverse the lower courts.

It puts everyone's emails at risk - if the US 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?

The Microsoft case is the second that the justices have agreed to hear in their current term that touches upon privacy rights in the digital age and the sheer amount of data on customers that companies now hold.

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Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June.

Microsoft responded to the development on Monday, arguing that the ongoing case points to the broader issue of the need for Congress to overhaul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986 to establish privacy protections for stored electronic communications.

The dispute stems from a 2013 federal effort to get emails that the government says would show evidence of drug trafficking.

The review from the Supreme Court will mark a significant step in the case, as it will once again put the issue at the forefront of the news. With so many United States tech companies serving foreign countries, a ruling would have a global impact.

"We will continue to press our case in court that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)-a law enacted decades before there was such a thing as cloud computing-was never meant to reach within other countries' borders", Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post.

A coalition of 33 US states and Puerto Rico backed the Justice Department's appeal.

  • Michelle Webb