Microsoft will deliver courtroom arguments on Wednesday in a legal showdown with the U.S. government as it tries to limit police access to private data — like emails — stored on behalf of customers overseas.
The company says it’s fighting for fundamental rights to privacy and international sovereignty in the digital age. The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, says seizure of overseas data is necessary for investigations as people can now avoid authorities by shuffling information around the globe with a click of a button.
The arguments will be heard in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Wednesday, with a decision expected within a couple of months.
Microsoft has been stirring up attention for the case for two years with constant updates, a special press conference and letters of support from companies like Apple, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T and Verizon. They say privacy-weary international customers will look to other providers if the U.S. government is given the power to access anyone’s data — as long as the company entrusted with it is headquartered in the U.S.
The case will determine whether Microsoft must turn over emails police demanded in a 2013 search warrant for a drug-trafficking investigation.Those files are stored on one of Microsoft’s data centers in Ireland, and therefore fall outside the investigators’ jurisdiction, Microsoft says. A lower court disagreed, holding Microsoft in contempt last year for refusing to comply.
Now Microsoft is appealing that decision with hopes of setting a precedent that will limit future data requests. If it loses, Microsoft lawyers have argued it would be the same as the German government being able to order a bank teller at Deutsche Bank branch in New York to hand over the contents of an American’s safe deposit box.
“In a nutshell, this case is about how we best protect privacy, ensure that governments keep people safe, and respect national sovereignty while preserving the global nature of the internet,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post when the company filed its arguments with the courts in April.