Senate bill would ease law enforcement access to overseas data

Victoria Sarno Jordan

Senators introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday that would create a legal framework allowing law enforcement to access Americans’ electronic communications in servers located in other countries.

The International Communications Privacy Act from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) would also require law enforcement to notify other countries of such data collection on their citizens in accordance with their laws.

The bill also allows law enforcement to get communications regarding foreign nationals in certain instances. 

“The potential global reach of government warrant authority has significant implications for multinational businesses and their customers. Failing to address this issue in a reasonable, comprehensive way will only continue to cause problems between American businesses and the U.S. government,” Hatch said in a statement.

Technology companies in particular have been frustrated with U.S. policies regarding the collection of digital communications from their users.

They worry that complying with U.S. requests for overseas data could force them to violate other countries’ own privacy protections.

Tech companies offered quick praise for the bill after its release.

“For far too long, technology companies, law enforcement and, ultimately, the courts have been forced to choose between competing interpretations of an outdated statute,” Microsoft President and Chief Legal Office Brad Smith wrote in a post lauding the bill. “These conflicts of law put businesses in a no-win situation, putting American technology companies at a disadvantage.”

Microsoft has lobbied on issues involving U.S. law enforcement collecting data on its users and the company even sued the government over the matter.

In one case, the court ruled that Microsoft did not have to turn over data stored in Ireland with just a U.S. domestic warrant. The Justice Department is appealing that ruling.

Microsoft has also sued for the right to inform customers when the government requests their data.

Microsoft is not alone in its concerns.

In January, a coalition of trade associations including the Software Alliance, the Internet Association and TechNet, who between them represent corporations like Google, Amazon and Facebook, wrote to Hatch and Coons expressing their support for the International Communications Privacy Act.

They argued that the rise of cloud computing and internationally stored data required a new legal regime for handling data across borders.

“Companies operating in this environment increasingly face the challenge of complying with multiple, often conflicting, privacy laws and regulations,” the associations wrote. “These conflicts undermine the confidence of users in information technology products and services, while simultaneously creating obstacles to law enforcement professionals in investigating and prosecuting criminal activity.”

Tags Christopher Coons Orrin Hatch

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