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Microsoft’s fight with the feds over foreign servers is headed to Supreme Court

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US v. Microsoft could have far-reaching implications on cloud storage

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The Supreme Court will review whether US law enforcement can use search warrants on emails outside the United States, in a case with massive implications for US-based megacorporations that serve countries across the world.

In US v. Microsoft, federal authorities served Microsoft a warrant under the Stored Communications Act (also called a “disclosure warrant”) for the emails of a foreign citizen that were stored on servers based in Ireland. The tech company refused, and in July 2016, an appeals court ruled in its favor, concluding that the Stored Communications Act did not apply to the communications stored overseas. Microsoft prevailed again in January 2017 when the appeals court refused to rehear the case.

A Supreme Court ruling could overturn the ruling or affirm it — either way, it would cement into place the reach of the Stored Communications Act. With so many US tech companies serving foreign countries, a ruling would have a global impact. “The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud,” Microsoft said in an official statement today.

The company voiced support for the International Communications Privacy Act of 2017 (ICPA), a bill introduced this July that would provide “sensible ways for cross-border data access” — processes that are not clearly addressed by existing law.

The current state of the law doesn’t mean that US law enforcement has no access to data stored on foreign servers. If domestic disclosure warrants cannot be served on the foreign servers of US companies, US law enforcement can lean on treaties with the country that the servers are based in.

While oral argument has not yet been scheduled, the Supreme Court will hear the case sometime in the next year.