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Government Surveillance

Supreme Court to Decide Whether a U.S. Warrant Can Reach Emails Stored Overseas

Today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a case focused on whether a U.S. warrant can reach emails stored overseas. The case, Microsoft v. United States, has major implications for the privacy rights of internet users both in the U.S. and abroad. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has filed briefs in the case in support of Microsoft’s position, arguing that the U.S. federal government must use the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process to gain access to information stored outside of the U.S.

“By taking this case, the Supreme Court will now have to decide whether a warrant issued by a U.S. court can compel a communications provider to produce its users’ content no matter where it’s stored in the world. This is something that Congress should be addressing, rather than the Court,” said Greg Nojeim, Director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Project at CDT.

“If the Court rules that U.S. warrants work abroad, it will open the floodgates to demands from other countries that their legal processes be able to compel other providers to disclose content that they hold in the U.S., including the content held by Americans. This would create chaos,” Nojeim added.

“The Court should affirm the Second Circuit opinion that the government has to use the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the U.S. and Ireland in order to gain access to the information in the case. Regardless of the ultimate decision, Congress should resolve the issue of cross-border law enforcement data demands, with a clear focus on strong human rights protections for all internet users,” Nojeim concluded.

CDT has long advocated for reform to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to address the issue of law enforcement access to digitally stored communications. Numerous reform efforts have moved forward in Congress, but they have all stalled despite the urgent need for updating the law that predates the commercial internet. CDT will continue to find a bipartisan solution that provides the necessary privacy protections to our digital communication.