World

Court Rules US Cannot Seize Data From World's Servers

| by Sarah Zimmerman

A federal appeals court ruled on Jan. 24 that it will not revisit its July 2016 decision which voided a U.S. warrant for Microsoft emails stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland.

According to the Stored Communications Act, the U.S. government can seize data from national servers. However, as a three-judge panel ruled last July, authorities do not have the mandate to do so if the servers are overseas, ArsTechnica reports. The Justice Department asked a New York appeals court to reopen the case with a larger panel, but judges voted to not rehear the case, saying the initial ruling stands.

Politico reports that the vote was 4 to 4, with three judges recusing themselves. The motion needed a majority in order to proceed with a rehearing.

"We are reviewing the decision and its multiple dissenting opinions and considering our options," said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

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The case has pitted tech companies against the U.S. government for the past six months. The fight over the rights to oversea servers began last July, when U.S. authorities asked Microsoft for email data that could help in a narcotics case, according to ArsTechnica. Microsoft refused, saying the government did not have the right to access the data as it was stored in facilities abroad.

The federal court sided with Microsoft in a July hearing. The government, in its petition to rehear the case, said Microsoft does not have the legal right to defend their customers' privacy and that the initial ruling works against national security. 

According to Politico, though, tech companies side with Microsoft, saying that U.S. government access to foreign server farms would open the door allowing foreign countries to demand access to U.S. servers. 

Although judges maintain that they won't reopen the case, they are calling on Congress to clarify the Stored Communications Act in order to clarify ambiguities about the U.S. government's authority to data stored abroad

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"We welcome today’s decision," said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a statement. "We need Congress to modernize the law both to keep people safe and ensure that governments everywhere respect each other’s borders. This decision puts the focus where it belongs, on Congress passing a law for the future rather than litigation about an outdated statute from the past."

Sources: ArsTechnica, Politico / Photo credit: Cory Doctorow/Flickr

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