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Last month, we wrote about Microsoft challenging the DOJ's attempt to use the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to go fishing for emails held overseas.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.
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Filed Under: doj, ecpa, email, jurisdiction, overseas, sca, subpoena, warrant
Companies: microsoft

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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jul 2014 @ 3:13pm

    It seems they are going to have to learn the hard way. Several countries are already considering tightening up data-sharing laws, such that data stored in one country can't so easily be transferred to another, if the DOJ pushes too hard on this one, I imagine those laws and changes under consideration will get a lot more attention.

    Of course even then I don't imagine the DOJ will care, they aren't the ones who will be screwed if they order a company to break the law of another country in order to get some data they want.

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