The Supreme Court will decide whether U.S. courts can issue warrants for data stored overseas under current federal law, adding another major case on digital privacy and the Fourth Amendment to its docket this term, The Atlantic reports. The justices agreed to hear U.S. v. Microsoft on Monday at the request of the federal government. A three-judge appellate panel sided with Microsoft last year to quash a warrant issued for emails stored on the tech giant’s servers in Ireland. At stake is whether federal prosecutors can compel tech firms to hand over data from anywhere in the world under existing law, or whether that immense power is bounded by U.S. borders.
Monday’s addition joins major criminal-justice cases on the justices’ plate. Foremost among them is Carpenter v. U.S., in which the court will study whether the government needs a warrant to obtain the location history of a suspect’s cellphone. Because existing precedents are four decades old, whatever decision the justices reach will likely be a landmark ruling on the Fourth Amendment’s application to modern technology. At issue in Microsoft is another ubiquity of the digital age: email. Federal prosecutors asked a judge to issue a warrant allowing them to search a Microsoft-provided email account, believing it was being used “to conduct criminal drug activity.,” The judge granted their request, and Microsoft complied with part of it by providing records on the account stored within its U.S.-based systems. The company declined to hand over data stored on servers in Dublin, which included the contents of the email account itself. Though Microsoft can access the account from the U.S., that data is physically located in the Irish capital. Microsoft’s lawyers argued this placed it beyond the law’s intended reach. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Microsoft.