Supreme Court to rule on whether US has right to data stored overseas

Microsoft's Irish data centre spat asks: How far should an American warrant go?

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a dispute over whether Microsoft should release personal emails stored in Ireland to America's federal government.

In 2014, the US Department of Justice took Microsoft to court because the software giant refused to give up emails stored on its data centres in Ireland, which would ordinarily be accessible under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Redmond argued that a US warrant for the private data does not extend beyond America's borders.

A district court in New York originally ruled in favour of the DoJ. However, in a landmark appeals court ruling last year, justices overturned the lower court's decision and sided with Redmond – concluding that the DoJ would need a warrant in Ireland.

In June, the DoJ appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which has now accepted it.

The DoJ has argued that it should have a right to access data stored abroad in order to protect against national security threats, while Microsoft viewed this approach as reaching too far and with ramifications for reciprocal rulings with other countries.

"We will continue to press our case in court that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) – a law enacted decades before there was such a thing as cloud computing – was never intended to reach within other countries' borders," Microsoft's legal whizz Brad Smith wrote in a blog post today.

A source familiar with the matter said that a hearing date had not been set, but it would likely take place around late February or early March.

Congress has already been evaluating the law surrounding seizing cloud data.

As Smith put it: "This is an important case that people around the world will watch." ®

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