On Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court will take on the argument between the federal government and Microsoft over the privacy of its customers’ information. The issue? Can Microsoft be forced to turn over emails stored on servers overseas?
Privacy advocates believe that if the federal government wins it would cause a problem. Any country would be able to retrieve information stored anywhere in the world.
However, a win for Microsoft would create a haven for information. There would be places where evidence for serious crimes could be hidden from governments, according to the Department of Justice.
In 2013, federal officials served a search warrant at Microsoft headquarters. Agents were looking for the contents of an account owned by MSN.com they believed was being used to traffic drugs. Microsoft was unable to comply because the emails were stored on servers in Dublin.
Microsoft has information centers in 40 different countries around the world. The federal officials would have to ask Ireland for the information.
According to the Department of Justice, the internet company could pull up the data from its headquarters. This means the search occurs where Microsoft hands over the information, not where the information is stored.
In a Supreme Court brief, Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote, “Any invasion of privacy occurs only when Microsoft divulges a user’s communications to the government and the government examines those communications for evidence of a crime.” The search warrants grants the government this authority. If it did not work this way, then internet providers could move information out of the reach of U.S. officials by storing data in other countries.
According to Microsoft, the search occurs where the information is stored, not where the computer operator sits. It does not matter if its staff is performing the information retrieval, they are acting under the order of the court, therefore the search is not a private act. Chief Legal Officer stated, “We believe that people’s privacy rights should be protected by the laws of their own countries, and we believe that information stored in the cloud should have the same protections as paper stored in your desk.”
Privacy groups are siding with Microsoft, reminding the government that if they win, any government can obtain any information in any other country, including the U.S.
By Jeanette Smith
NBC News: Government battles Microsoft in email privacy case before Supreme Court
Image Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License