Last Monday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Microsoft search warrant case, a case in which Microsoft challenged the U.S. government’s right to use the warrant process to obtain certain emails stored overseas. Some view the upcoming decision as signaling the level of access the U.S. government will have to the growing troves of data U.S.-based technology companies hold about citizens of the world. And regulators in the EU and other jurisdictions may view a reversal of the Second Circuit decision as a negative factor when considering the protections the U.S. government afford their citizens’ data. The case was previously decided twice in Microsoft’s favor in the Second Circuit, which declined to grant en banc review by a 4-4 decision.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today unanimously reversed a lower court’s denial of Microsoft’s motion to quash a warrant seeking the content of emails for a customer of its Outlook.com email service. The decision is surprising in that that U.S. courts, including the Second Circuit, have traditionally enforced government process seeking documents or data stored abroad from entities that have control over the information under the test of “control, not location.” This case could have a significant impact on cloud providers’ decisions to store information abroad. It also serves, in the midst of debates about the newly enacted Privacy Shield and the recent challenge to Standard Contractual Clauses now before the Court of Justice of the European Union, as a counterbalance to arguments that some make about the U.S. legal system not respecting personal privacy.
A brief summary of the April 19, 2010 oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of City of Ontario v. Quon, a Fourth Amendment privacy case on appeal from the Ninth Circuit.