The U.S. Justice Department petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court late Friday to overturn a ruling that blocked its warrant to obtain email from a Microsoft customer stored in the company’s Ireland data center.
It’s the latest twist in a long-running case, closely watched in the tech industry. The outcome could set a precedent for situations in which authorities issue warrants for data stored by U.S. tech companies overseas.
Microsoft argues that extending the reach of such warrants internationally creates conflicts between the laws of different governments and makes it tougher to operate online services internationally. The company last night urged the Justice Department to focus instead on legislative efforts to come up with “a modern fix that improves law enforcement’s capabilities while protecting people’s rights.”
“It seems backward to keep arguing in court when there is positive momentum in Congress toward better law for everyone,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, in the company’s post responding to the Justice Department’s appeal. “The DOJ’s position would put businesses in impossible conflict-of-law situations and hurt the security, jobs, and personal rights of Americans.”
“Those in agreement include members of Congress, the business community, academic researchers, our international allies and the Justice Department itself,” Smith said. “In fact, Congress has already taken steps to address this important issue and DOJ has already negotiated the first new international agreement.”
The dispute, which arose from a drug-trafficking investigation, hinges on interpretations of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that Congress passed in 1986.
“The government established probable cause to believe that the communications would provide evidence of a crime, thus meeting constitutional standards for a warrant,” writes the Justice Department in its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The decision protects only criminals whose communications are placed out of reach of law enforcement officials because of the business decisions of private providers. Nothing in the language or structure of the SCA, or in this Court’s precedents, justifies that anomalous consequence.”
Read the DOJ’s full petition below.