The Second Circuit in New York recently handed down a ruling that emails held in servers overseas are not subject to a warrant issued in the United States. Judge Susan Carney ruled that the government cannot use a domestic search warrant to compel disclosure of email data stored with a U.S. company outside the United States. Many are calling a victory for privacy rights for individuals and businesses.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the Stored Communications Act of 1986 in a matter where the U.S. government had sought emails in connection with a drug trafficking investigation from Microsoft. Microsoft objected to the warrant, citing privacy rights provided under the law because the customer’s emails were stored exclusively on a server in Ireland. Federal prosecutors argued that exempting the emails would create a loophole that would keep criminals’ information out of reach of the the U.S. government. The decision overturns a 2014 decision which implicitly authorized production of data stored overseas.
The case attracted strong interest from the technology and media sectors concerned that giving prosecutors power to collect data outside the country would put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, many media and tech companies – and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – filed briefs in support of Microsoft’s position.
This decision seems to attempt to strike a balance between protecting privacy, respecting borders in the digital world, and reasonable efforts to prosecute criminal activity.