Microsoft Wins Appeal Over U.S. Government Attempt to Access Communications Stored Overseas

BY Heather Greenfield
July 14, 2016

Washington — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that the Department of Justice may not use warrants issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act to access the content of electronic communications stored outside the United States. The long-running case has been a key point of concern for online service providers and their users, because of the conflicting requirements of U.S. warrant requests and data protection laws in other countries.

The appellate court’s decision in Microsoft v. United States reasserts the extraterritorial limitations on the reach of warrants issued under U.S. law, and instead points to the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) process as the appropriate path for requests. CCIA and others filed a joint brief in support of Microsoft, arguing that the government’s cross-border order would have significant international consequences and be technically problematic, and a non-location based standard would provide the best outcomes for users worldwide.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association has long supported appropriate limitations for government access to online communications. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:

“As Congress considers reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act, this ruling demonstrates the importance of clear statutory language that anticipates and facilitates cloud privacy and security.

“The decision in Microsoft v. United States makes evident that the government’s position does not reflect the statutory status quo or Constitutional bounds, but also suggests that the status quo does not adequately reflect the function of modern online platforms.

“We encourage Congress to support legislation like the International Communications Privacy Act, which reaffirms a nationwide warrant-for-content standard, offers a nationality-based solution to cross-border law enforcement requests, and provides needed reforms to the MLAT process.”

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