Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Supreme Court Accepts Cert in Microsoft Involving Search Warrants for Emails on Foreign Servers (10/17/17)

Guest bloggers previously wrote about the Microsoft case and the Stored Communications Act.  Peter D. Hardy and Carolyn H. Kendall, Guest Blog on Stored Communications Act Reach to Cloud Storage Outside the U.S. (4/25/15), here.  The panel decision in Microsoft is here, and the order denying rehearing en banc (with concurring and dissenting opinions) is here.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the Microsoft case.  Orin Kerr, Supreme Court agrees to review Microsoft Ireland warrant case (Volokh Conspiracy 10/16/17), here; and Robert Barnes, Supreme Court to consider major digital privacy case on Microsoft email storage (WAPO 10/16/17), here.

The question presented in the petition, here, filed by the United States is:
Whether a United States provider of email services must comply with a probable-cause-based warrant issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703 by making disclosure in the United States of electronic communications within that provider’s control, even if the provider has decided to store that material abroad.
Readers wanting to track the case in the Supreme Court may do so on the SCOTUSblog, here.

In a somewhat related development, a district court has granted search warrants, as modified, issued in a tax fraud and identity theft investigation to obtain emails stored by email service providers.  United States v. In the Matter of the Search of Information Associated with Fifteen Email Addresses, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159535 (M.D. Ala. 2017), here.    The district court's conclusion is:
The Magistrate Judge's denial of the search warrant applications was not clearly erroneous. Because the constitutional infirmities can be corrected with moderate alterations, however, the Government's search warrants will be issued with the specific modifications described in the accompanying Order. Those limitations impose (1) a date restriction on the data to be turned over by the provider based on an individualized assessment of the accompanying probable cause evidence for each email account, and (2) an instruction applicable to all the accounts that the searches be conducted through keyword searches and other appropriate protocols so as to limit the universe of data to be reviewed to that which is more likely to be pertinent. The Government is free to return and seek additional search warrants based on the new evidence it discovers.
This case apparently does not involve the issue of emails stored on servers outside the U.S., and the opinion does not even mention the Microsoft case.  Still, practitioners should be alert to the possibility of Government investigators obtaining search warrants requiring email service providers providers to produce emails.  Even though Microsoft involves the issue of foreign servers, the Supreme Court's opinion will likely address a number of issues in this increasingly important context.

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