The U.S. Supreme Court is beginning to hear a new case involving tech giant Microsoft, and the decision it makes will shed light on a key question in the modern world—when data is stored in the cloud, where is it really located? Whose legal jurisdiction does it fall under? According to The Washington Post, U.S. v. Microsoft could have serious implications for both the nation’s tech companies and the federal government.
The origins of this case can be traced back to 2013, when Microsoft received a routine search warrant for the emails of a suspected drug dealer. Microsoft objected a court order to turn the emails over, pointing out that they were kept on a server in Dublin, outside of the U.S. government’s jurisdiction. The government countered by citing a 1986 law called the Stored Communications Act, which dictates the government’s authority to oversee communications but was passed long before email rose to prominence. The legal battle has now reached the nation’s highest court.
“[The government’s request is] a recipe for global chaos,” Microsoft lawyer Joshua Rosenkranz told the Post. “If another country did this to us, we would be outraged at the most basic level.”
Former federal prosecutor Orin Kerr doesn’t see the case as nearly that dramatic.
“[Microsoft is simply being asked to] press a button in the United States to disclose an email in the United States,” Kerr explained. “In a way, it’s metaphysics they’re arguing instead of statutory interpretation.”
The stakes are high in this case for both sides. If the government loses, it fears it will lose the ability to find evidence in “hundreds, if not thousands” of future criminal cases via email stored in the cloud, in cases that may range from terrorism to child pornography to fraud. Microsoft, meanwhile, has presented its side of the case as crucial to the future of “digital privacy.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, discussions are ongoing about a piece of legislation that could render the entire case moot. The Cloud Act, which represents a compromise between the tech industry and the Trump administration, would spell out clearer federal guidelines for when law enforcement agencies are allowed to access data in the cloud.
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