DOJ Tells Court That Of Course It Can Go On A Fishing Expedition Globally For Emails Microsoft Stores Overseas

from the because-we're-the-us-gov't-dammit dept

Last month, we wrote about Microsoft challenging the DOJ's attempt to use the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to go fishing for emails held overseas. As Microsoft rightly noted, a warrant does not apply overseas. A magistrate judge tried to dance around this, saying that a warrant under ECPA is really kinda like a subpoena. But Microsoft points out how insane that is:
This interpretation not only blatantly rewrites the statute, it reads out of the Fourth Amendment the bedrock requirement that the Government must specify the place to be searched with particularity, effectively amending the Constitution for searches of communications held digitally. It would also authorize the Government (including state and local governments) to violate the territorial integrity of sovereign nations and circumvent the commitments made by the United States in mutual legal assistance treaties expressly designed to facilitate cross-border criminal investigations. If this is what Congress intended, it would have made its intent clear in the statute. But the language and the logic of the statute, as well as its legislative history, show that Congress used the word "warrant" in ECPA to mean "warrant," and not some super-powerful "hybrid subpoena." And Congress used the term "warrant" expecting that the Government would be bound by all the inherent limitations of warrants, including the limitation that warrants may not be issued to obtain evidence located in the territory of another sovereign nation.
The DOJ has responded to Microsoft's filing and basically says yeah, whatever, we can take whatever we want, and if it's overseas, who cares?
Overseas records must be disclosed domestically when a valid subpoena, order, or warrant compels their production. The disclosure of records under such circumstances has never been considered tantamount to a physical search under Fourth Amendment principles, and Microsoft is mistaken to argue that the SCA provides for an overseas search here. As there is no overseas search or seizure, Microsoft’s reliance on principles of extra-territoriality and comity falls wide of the mark.
A bunch of tech and telco companies have all jumped into the case on Microsoft's side as well, noting that the DOJ's argument would almost certainly violate data privacy laws in other countries, not to mention piss off governments around the globe. The crux of the argument, as per usual with the DOJ, is that when it wants data, it will twist and twist and twist the laws to enable it to get access to as much data as possible, with as little scrutiny as possible. This is just one of many reasons why we need serious ECPA reform -- such that it actually respects the 4th Amendment. But, in this case, it would be nice to have a judge realize that even under such an outdated law, the DOJ's interpretation is simply out of line.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: doj, ecpa, email, jurisdiction, overseas, sca, subpoena, warrant
Companies: microsoft

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2014 @ 4:46pm

    Re: So to draw this out further...

    The EU has refused to take a bid from AT&T if I remember this rightly over fears of US government spying. Germany is ready to make a law that any company doing emails in their country will guaranty that the email data resides within country to avoid both US and British spying. This is not going to get magically better.

    At some point these companies are going to look at their bottom lines and decide whether to stay in the US and continue to loose profits or move to another country outside the jurisdiction of the US.

    Germany as well as a couple of other EU countries are considering ending the financial data transfers that the US demands for both the IRS and for looking for terrorist financial data. This won't ease those fears but rather will push it to a head.

    I would imagine following that will be the denial of forwarding passenger data to the US. That too will create quite a problem for the US.

    While they may stonewall the rest of the way through the Obama term, it won't be going away as an issue.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.