A federal appeals court ruled Thursday in favor of Microsoft, stating investigators cannot force the company to turn over a user’s Outlook.com inbox contents stored outside of the United States.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York overturned a decision that held Microsoft in contempt of court for not complying with a 2013 warrant that mandated the company release a drug trafficking case suspect’s email account data stored on a server in Ireland.
- The court decided that the Stored Communications Act (SCA) does not apply to servers outside the U.S.
Advancements in technology have far outpaced the laws intended to regulate them. Part of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the SCA was implemented before the widespread advent of cloud computing. Since then, it has become more and more common for companies to store data around the world.
In its decision, the appeals court ruled that when Congress enacted the legislation, they did not intend the warrant provisions to apply outside of the U.S. Therefore, the "SCA warrant in this case many not be lawfully used to compel Microsoft to produce to the government the contents of a customer’s email account stored exclusively in Ireland," according to the court documents. Because Microsoft had "no remaining lawful obligation" to the warrant, the court also vacated a lower court's civil contempt of court order.
Throughout the course of the case, Amazon, Verizon Communications and Cisco Systems, in addition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Software Alliance filed legal briefs supporting Microsoft, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The Justice Department had argued that the government has the authority to get the data stored elsewhere since Microsoft is based in the U.S.
Microsoft is set to continue its court battles with the U.S. government. In April, the company filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s claims that it can block companies from telling their customers when their data has been examined by federal agents. That case also hinges on the dated ECPA law.