In a hotly contentious case that calls into question Fourth Amendment rights in a digital era, the U.S. government has affirmed that data can be seized with appropriate warrants even if it resides in servers located overseas.
The decision comes in response to a drug trafficking case in which the U.S. Justice Department demanded that Microsoft disclose emails stored in a datacenter in Dublin, Ireland.
While Microsoft challenged a district court ruling last month, stating that “the company’s servers in Ireland should be subject to Irish law,” reports Ars Technica, the government just filed a brief in support of the decision, as the case is scheduled to go before a federal judge on July 31.
“Overseas records must be disclosed domestically when a valid subpoena, order, or warrant compels their production,” the government wrote. “The disclosure of records under such circumstances has never been considered tantamount to a physical search under Fourth Amendment principles.”
Unlike physical evidence overseas, for instance, digital content stored abroad -- such as Microsoft’s email trove -- is “under the control of and readily available to Microsoft’s employees in the United States,” the briefing reads.
A chorus of tech giants including Apple, Cisco, AT&T and Verizon have weighed in in support of Microsoft, stating that such a decision contradicts foreign data protection laws, and also puts the tech sector at risk of being sanctioned by foreign governments.
The government vows such processes are necessary, however, given the wide use of electronic communication “by criminals of all types in the United States and abroad, from fraudsters to hackers to drug dealers, in furtherance of violations of U.S. law.”