US Supreme Court hears arguments in Microsoft case

Recently, we reported about the on-going dispute between Microsoft and the US Justice Department. It is a case of utmost importance for the future of privacy rights of individuals. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in this case.

Has the U.S. government the right to secure data stored overseas?

We reported about the legal dispute a few months ago. It goes back to 2013 – the tech giant was served with a domestic warrant for emails stored in a datacenter located in Ireland and refused to release those emails, stating that – due to the fact that the data is stored abroad – the emails are not subject to US law. However, the US government argued that Microsoft has to give those emails to the government because Microsoft is a US-based company.

Opinions of the judges

According to Reuters, Supreme Court Justices appeared divided on the issue. Conservative Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito appeared partial to the government’s argument. Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor suggested that, because Congress is considering legislation to resolve the issue, action by the court may not be needed. A ruling is due by the end of June.

Microsoft demands new laws

According to Windows Central, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, weighed in on the issue, arguing in a blog post that Congress should solve the issue by enacting laws built for the 21st century.

“Everyone agrees that new technology poses new problems that need to be solved. We’ve argued since the day we filed this case in 2013 that we need modern laws to govern today’s technology. We can’t rely on laws written three decades ago, before the internet as we know it was invented. Ultimately the courts – including the Supreme Court – can decide only whether the Department of Justice’s approach passes muster under current law. The courts are not able to write a new law. Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress can do that, using its tools to craft a nuanced solution that balances all the competing concerns by enacting a statute for the 21st century.”

Impact on other countries

But who will win in the end? According to CNBC, Matthew Tokson, an associate professor of law at the University of Utah, said:

“Most experts seem to think that the government has the upper hand here. One concern about this case is if the government prevails, foreign countries may be more actively aggressive with their surveillance of say, U.S. citizens’ data stored in their countries.”

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