After a magistrate and a federal district court have ordered Microsoft to grant federal government access to an Outlook account stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland, now the tech giant must comply with a similar demand coming from the US Justice Department. The feds are interested in that e-mail account because it belongs to a person under federal investigation for illegal drug trade.
Lawyers now say that no matter what the tech company’s solution to the dispute will be, the Congress will certainly change the two US electronic privacy laws – the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA).
The US gave as a pretext for its demand SCA’s provisions, while Microsoft Corp said that the search warrant was illegal since it broke the Irish and European laws. The US search warrant targeted an e-mail account located physically on a server in Ireland.
Last week, in an appeal at the US Court of Appeals, the Washington-based company said that the US government looked for an extra-territorial application of US laws that would have far-reaching consequences on privacy and US technology businesses.
“Seldom has a case below the Supreme Court attracted the breadth and depth of legal involvement we’re seeing today. This case involves not a narrow legal question, but a broad policy issue that is fundamental to the future of global technology,”
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, recently said.
Microsoft position is backed up by nearly 30 technology company such as AT&T, Cisco Systems and Apple Inc, about 20 trade associates and 35 tech scientists.
However, the US government used a liberal interpretation of the US electronic privacy laws arguing that according to SCA a search warrant applies to the tech company that has direct control over the content, not to the physical location of that content. So, if Microsoft exerts direct control over that MS Outlook account, the US can compel it to provide private data.
The tech companies say that such an interpretation of the law will set a dangerous precedent and have a huge impact on their international businesses. Companies argue that their business partners would certainly refuse to further collaborate with American tech companies if they learn that their confidential data would be at the US government’s disposal 24/7.
“There are some very real business issues here. A perception exists in foreign countries that your data is only a heartbeat away from being given to US law enforcement,”
a lawyer at the law firm Latham & Watkins in Washington said.
Lawyers also warn that if Microsoft loses the battle, foreign governments could imitate the US an issue search warrants targeting tech companies located in the US. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that the US precedent could create a “big slippery slope”.
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