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Supreme Court tosses out DOJ case against Microsoft

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out the case the government had brought against Microsoft over whether law enforcement can search and seize data stored overseas. 

In a three-page order, the court said the dispute is resolved now that Congress has passed legislation allowing investigators to obtain electronic data that technology companies store anywhere in the world.

After the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data, or CLOUD, Act was passed as part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to vacate the lower court ruling and send the Microsoft case back down to the lower court with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.

In a reply, Microsoft said it was not objecting to the DOJ’s request because the government has abandoned its pursuit of the original warrant and Congress passed the Cloud Act. 

“The way this case has played out shows exactly why the Second Circuit was correct to hold that the Stored Communications Act did not yet reach communications stored in other countries: Only Congress could ‘create nuanced rules’ like those in the CLOUD Act that properly bring the SCA into the 21st century,” said attorneys for Microsoft.

The case centered on a federal warrant for the emails of a customer that Microsoft had stored in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft had argued that under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), warrants have territorial limits.

During arguments in February, however, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why the justices shouldn’t just wait for Congress to resolve the issue, given the pending legislation.  

As it turns out, they didn’t wait long.  

The Supreme Court said in its opinion Tuesday that both DOJ and Microsoft agree that a new warrant has replaced the original warrant and that this case, therefore, has become moot. 

The court’s ruling vacates the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision in favor Microsoft and sends the case back down to the lower court for it to be dismissed. 

— Updated at 11:10 a.m.

Tags CLOUD Act Data Microsoft Supreme Court

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