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The Second Circuit Appeals Court has ruled that the US government cannot force Microsoft to turn over data held on servers located outside the US. The court found that the statute used to obtain the warrant was not intended by Congress to reach beyond the borders of the US. The decision was 3-0, with no dissenting judges. This is believed to be the first case to challenge the use of domestic search warrants to seize data stored on foreign soil. The Department of Justice may appeal the ruling but is still considering its options.

The case was brought before the court in September of last year. Investigators were seeking data that was stored on Irish servers. Microsoft argued that the US government has no jurisdiction in Ireland and an Irish warrant would be required in order to gain access to the data. Numerous tech companies, news outlets and activist groups filed briefs on Microsoft’s behalf including the ACLU, the US Chamber of Commerce, Amazon, Cisco, CNN, Fox News and Verizon.

Federal prosecutors argued that quashing the warrant in this case would interfere with other investigations that are in progress. However, the majority opinion stated that the US government has already entered into treaties with several nations, including Ireland, which have procedures to seek assistance from local authorities when dealing with investigations that cross national boundaries. However, some investigators consider those procedures to be too time-consuming.

Gerard Lynch wrote a concurring opinion which differed somewhat on the details. Lynch did agree with the other judges that the law did not allow investigators to seize electronic data stored outside of the US. However, he did not consider it “rational policy” to allow Microsoft to avoid an otherwise valid warrant just by moving data to another country. Lynch called on Congress to update what he called a “badly outdated” law to better meet the needs of law enforcement.

Do you agree with the court’s ruling? Should American judges be able to issue warrants for data stored in another country? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.