Courthouse Steps: U.S. v. Microsoft

Corporations, Securities, and Antitrust Practice Group Teleforum

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The Stored Communications Act of 1986 authorizes federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to obtain subpoenas, orders, or warrants that permit them to seize emails.  However, the storage of such data in the “cloud” of remote servers, many of them overseas, presents difficult questions Congress did not anticipate years before global internet access became commonplace.  The main question in United States v. Microsoft is whether a warrant served on the tech giant’s U.S. offices requires it to turn over emails of a suspected drug trafficker that happen to be stored in Ireland.

Because federal law is presumed not to apply outside the United States, the case presents the question whether the relevant conduct occurs domestically—whether the Act’s focus is the disclosure of electronic records available to the U.S. company, or whether its focus is the compelled retrieval of the data stored abroad.  It is an increasingly important issue at a time when many leading email providers may store an email in one location and its attachments in another location entirely. Due to the potentially vast implications, more than 30 amicus briefs have been filed by several governments, members of Congress, numerous tech firms, privacy advocates, and law-enforcement officials.  

John Elwood will attend the oral argument and then join us to discuss his thoughts on the proceedings. 

Featuring: John Elwood, Partner, Vinson & Elkins

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