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Supreme Court agrees to hear DOJ petition in Microsoft data warrant case

Supreme Court agrees to hear DOJ petition in Microsoft data warrant case

Supreme Court agrees to hear DOJ petition in Microsoft data warrant case

The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to decide on a legal fight between the Department of Justice and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) concerning emails stored overseas.

The appeals court ruled that current USA law does not give judges the right to issue search warrants that reach outside the U.S. The law authorizes search warrants when there is probable cause that the emails are evidence of a federal crime.

At issue is a Federal Appeals Court ruling that denied federal investigators access to emails stored on Microsoft computers in Ireland. The full circuit then split evenly on whether that decision was correct. It said the decision conflicts with past decisions in lower courts that "a domestic recipient of a subpoena is required to produce specified materials within the recipient's control, even if the recipient stores the materials overseas".

The government had argued that exempting the emails would create a loophole that could be exploited by criminals.

In court papers, Bloomberg reports, USA deputy solicitor general Jeffrey Wall said: "Under [Microsoft's] opinion, hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes... ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud... are being or will be hampered by the government's inability to obtain electronic evidence".

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Microsoft released all of the information stored in the United States, but refused to do the same for emails hosted in Ireland. The cert petition is here (PDF) and the SCOTUSblog case page is here.

The Supreme Court last week declined to hear another Guantanamo case, leaving in place the last remaining conviction of a Yemeni man, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, who was an al Qaeda publicist. The court will hear arguments early next year and rule by June. And if the United States can use a warrant to take any data so long as it's held by an American company, doesn't that invite foreign governments to do the same thing?

The Justice Department said in its appeal that the lower court ruling "gravely threatens public safety and national security" because it limits the government's ability to "ward off terrorism and similar national security threats and to investigate and prosecute crimes". Officials obtained a search warrant, but Microsoft refused to turn over the information, taking the matter to court instead.

A coalition of 33 USA states and Puerto Rico backed the Justice Department's appeal.

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