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We'll drag Microsoft in front of Supremes over Irish email spat – DoJ

US prosecutors ask top court to mull overseas data slurping

The US Department of Justice has formally asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal in Microsoft's Ireland warrant legal row.

Prosecutors want the country's top court to reconsider a 2016 ruling that government agents could not use a search warrant, granted in New York, to demand Microsoft hand over people's personal emails held in servers in Ireland.

The DoJ filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that it hear its arguments in appeal of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals declaration that the ability of US law enforcement agencies to execute search warrants stops at the shores of US soil.

The crux of the matter is whether or not a US court has jurisdiction over systems beyond America's borders, even if those computers are operated by a US organization. Last year, the appeals court said: no. Instead, the DoJ should have gone to the Irish authorities and obtained a warrant in Dublin for the information.

"In this case, the Second Circuit up-ended that practice by interpreting such a warrant to call for an impermissible extraterritorial application of the statute," the DoJ filing, submitted Friday, reads.

"That holding is wrong, inconsistent with this Court's framework for analysis of extraterritoriality issues, and highly detrimental to criminal law enforcement."

Microsoft, meanwhile, said that it is hoping the matter could be resolved outside of the court, preferably with legislation. In the meantime, top lawyer and VP Brad Smith said he's confident in Microsoft's ability to win the case.

"The litigation path DoJ is now trying to extend in parallel to legislative progress seeks to require the Supreme Court to decide how a law written three decades ago applies to today's global internet," Smith wrote in a blog post.

"The previous decision was soundly in our favor, and we're confident our arguments will be persuasive with the Supreme Court. However, we'd prefer to keep working alongside the DoJ and before Congress on enacting new law, as Judge Lynch suggested, that works for everyone rather than arguing about an outdated law."

Smith noted that the matter may get sorted out before the court can even hear the case. Congress is already working on laws that would expand the ability for law enforcement to collect data on cloud servers and clarify when jurisdiction can extend to machines housed overseas.

"The need for legislation will exist regardless of who wins the case, and we've seen encouraging progress," wrote Smith. "We hope today's filing does not derail work toward a modern fix that improves law enforcement's capabilities while protecting people's rights."

Now, we wait for the Supremes to agree, or decline, to hear Uncle Sam's case. ®

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