Supreme Court to hear U.S. case against Microsoft over emails

By Allen Cone  |  Oct. 16, 2017 at 3:39 PM
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Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a privacy case pitting the U.S. government against Microsoft.

The nine-member court agreed to take up the case next year whether Microsoft can be required to turn over emails at more than 100 data centers in 40 countries outside the United States.

The case involves contents of an MSN.com account the government said was used to conduct drug trafficking in 2013. The data was stored in Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft only turned over information it had stored in the United States and went to court.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said the company had to hand over the emails. But last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York ruled in Microsoft's favor.

The U.S. government was joined by 33 states in seeking Supreme Court review.

At issue is the location of the search -- at Redmond, Wash., where employees can call up the data -- or where the content is stored.

The company argues federal law doesn't extend to overseas seizure of data.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's CEO and chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post that the "current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud. We believe that rather than arguing over an old law in court [approved in 1986], it is time for Congress to act by passing new legislation."

Smith said there are broader dimension to this issue.

"If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what's to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?" Smith wrote. "We believe that people's privacy rights should be protected by the laws of their own countries, and we believe that information stored in the cloud should have the same protections as paper stored in your desk."

In its request for Supreme Court review, the Justice Department said a ruling for Microsoft would cause "immediate, grave, and ongoing harm to public safety, national security and the enforcement of our laws."

Mark Rasch, a computer security expert and former Justice Department prosecutor, told NBC News that users outside the United States would be discouraged from using American internet companies.

He said this is a "very big case" that "raises the largely unresolved issue of where things occur when they happen in cyberspace. We have a real world that has borders and national interests and a virtual world that doesn't respect them."

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