Judge says US search warrants still apply to digital data that is stored outside the US

nsa judge story

The recent development in Internet privacy has me worrying about the future. Why? Apparently a new ruling by a New York judge said that US search warrants can be applied to e-mail accounts and other digital data even if they (the data) are stored outside the country. This means your e-mail could be searched by the US government, even if you use an email service that stores its data overseas.

I thought e-mails are supposed to be private? Apparently, not in the US. Or outside for that matter.

Well, the US government won’t just search anyone’s e-mail though so don’t worry too much. As long as you’re not doing any crime and are a good citizen, your account won’t be checked. (In theory, anyway.) US Magistrate James Francis made the ruling so Microsoft could be given a search warrant. E-mail accounts stored in Dublin, Ireland could now be checked for whatever reason.

A few months ago when Microsoft was given a search warrant, it challenged the court and gave this statement:

A U.S. prosecutor cannot obtain a U.S. warrant to search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States. We think the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees.

The ruling has now been given by Judge Francis. But Microsoft still seems to be hard-headed and released another statement:

The U.S. government doesn’t have the power to search a home in another country, nor should it have the power to search the content of email stored overseas.

Microsoft is insisting that the same rules should be applied on the web:

We think the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees.
Microsoft still respects the government but believes they should follow the same rules as in the physical world:

To be clear, we respect the critical role law enforcement plays in protecting all of us. We’re not trying to frustrate any government investigations, and we believe the government should be able to obtain evidence necessary to investigate a possible crime. We just believe the government should have to follow the processes it has established for obtaining physical evidence outside the United States.??Bringing these types of jurisdictional challenges is one of the data privacy commitments we made in December, and we’ll continue to pursue this issue because we believe we’re right on the law and because our customers have told us they value our privacy commitments.

I understand where Microsoft is coming from. I don’t have an e-mail account with them but if I do, I’d commend the Redmond company for still trying to protect my privacy. Judge Francis believes otherwise and wants search warrants for digital files even if stored outside the US. According to Francis, Microsoft and Google, and any other Internet companies should not refuse court orders as such.

This is one interesting battle between the court and Microsoft. We’ll keep tab on this one.

[via Engadget]

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