Microsoft Email-Access Fight With US Gets Supreme Court Review

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The case began in 2013, when USA prosecutors got a warrant to access emails in a drug trafficking investigation.

The lower court ruling put stored electronic communications held overseas beyond the reach of USA prosecutors even when there is probable cause that they contain evidence of a crime, Justice Department lawyers said in court papers.

The technology case arose from a federal drug investigation. In 2014, the court ruled that police need a warrant to search a cellphone seized during an arrest.

Finding that current laws were "for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud" Microsoft is also urging members of Congress to pass new legislation, mainly the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) of 2017. The case differed slightly to Microsoft's case, however, in that this data was regularly moved around the world to improve speed - and was never meant to be stored in one specific location.

"Under this opinion, hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes - ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud - are being or will be hampered by the government's inability to obtain electronic evidence", Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued in court papers.

Last July Microsoft seemingly won a court scrap with U.S. law enforcement, meaning that data stored in foreign datacentres could not be seized under current legislation for criminal investigations.

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The case will pit federal and state officials against the technology industry, which has lined up behind Microsoft in the litigation.

A federal magistrate judge in NY in 2013 granted the government's request to issue a warrant for the data under a 1986 federal law, the Stored Communications Act. "If US law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what's to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?"

Last year, the 2nd Circuit ruled that the company had not violated antitrust laws by insisting in its contracts with merchants that they do nothing to encourage patrons to use other cards. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found against the Government on this issue.

Whether that's a valid concern or irrational fear, Microsoft is upbeat about the Supreme Court challenge.

Eleven states asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, saying that the appeals court's decision was at odds with established antitrust principles and affected "an astronomical number of retail transactions in the United States".

It contradicts the basic premise that before a USA statute reaches across another country's borders, it should be clear that's what Congress intended when it passed the law.