Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Justice have asked the Supreme Court to drop a case that has pitted the two against one another since 2013. The software giant and the DOJ agree that the lawsuit is irrelevant now that Congress has passed the CLOUD Act, which clarifies the federal government’s authority when requesting user information held by U.S. tech companies overseas.
The Supreme Court heard the case in February when the CLOUD Act had been introduced but passage was uncertain. Last week, Congress attached the CLOUD Act to a must-pass omnibus spending bill. DOJ filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot Friday and Microsoft filed its motion Tuesday.
“Microsoft has argued from the beginning of this case that Congress is the proper branch to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986,” Microsoft said in its motion. “Congress alone, we insisted, has the tools to address the question whether, and when, law enforcement may demand access to private electronic communications stored in other countries.”
Microsoft vs. United States dates back to a 2013 investigation in which law enforcement agents obtained a warrant for account information linked to a suspect in a drug trafficking case. Microsoft handed over some account data that was stored in the U.S. but refused to provide emails because they were held at a data center in Ireland. Microsoft claimed the federal government didn’t have the authority to seize information stored abroad. A U.S. District judge upheld the warrant but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, and finally, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
The CLOUD Act clarifies the authority of U.S. law enforcement to request data held overseas under the Stored Communications Act. It limits that authority to countries that meet digital privacy and security standards and have entered into special agreements with the U.S.
Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the new law because it gives the executive branch broad authority to strike data-sharing deals with other countries.
Microsoft is the most prominent backer of the CLOUD Act though other tech companies have also supported it. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said, “Today is an important day for privacy rights around the world, for international relations, and for building trust in the technology we all rely on every day,” when Congress attached the bill to the omnibus spending package.