Supreme Court Drops Microsoft Data Privacy Case

By:  Rachel Lerman

The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed Microsoft’s data privacy lawsuit against the Justice Department, a move that was expected after a new law made the decision moot.

The case involved the right of the U.S. government to obtain information held digitally overseas. Microsoft originally contended it could not turn over customer emails the Justice Department sought in 2013 as part of an ongoing narcotics case because the emails were stored in an Irish data center.

As the case wove its way through lower courts, and finally to the high court in February, Microsoft was part of a contingent of tech companies and law enforcement agencies that pushed for a new law to set out rules for data-storage providers and governments to access digital data held across borders.

That law, called the Cloud Act, passed as part of Congress’ huge budget bill last month. It allows U.S. data providers to turn over information stored internationally if the law enforcement request was legitimate and no foreign law would be breached.

After the Cloud Act passed, Microsoft and the Justice Department requested the Supreme Court dismiss the case. Under the new law, the government issued a new warrant for the emails held in the Irish data center, which Microsoft said last month it was reviewing.

“Our goal has always been a new law and international agreements with strong privacy protections that govern how law enforcement gathers digital evidence across borders,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement after the case was dismissed.

The new law has been heralded among the tech community and by government agencies but has been criticized by faced controversy from digital privacy organizations, which say it does not protect customer privacy.