Lawmakers bring bill to fight overseas govt data searches, boost privacy

Reuters / Thomas Peter

Reuters / Thomas Peter

​Congress is once again attempting to tackle data rights with a bipartisan bill that would increase email privacy protections and limit government access to data content stored overseas, even when it comes calling with a search warrant.

Introduced Thursday by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Law
Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad bill would require
American companies to turn over data stored on international
servers only if a warrant targets a “US person.”

The legislation is a response to a federal court’s ruling that
required Microsoft to turn over e-mails stored on its Irish
server to assist a Department of Justice drug investigation. The
law also requires the court to vacate a warrant if it violates
another country’s laws.

“[We] must strengthen privacy in the digital age and promote
trust in US technologies worldwide by safeguarding data stored
abroad, while still enabling law enforcement to fulfill its
important public safety mission,
” Sen. Hatch told The Hill.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dean
Heller (R-Nev.)

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Microsoft was served with a search warrant by the Justice
Department in December of 2013 seeking contents of e-mails and
other details of an unnamed user, allegedly related to a
drug investigation. The company stored non-content e-mail data in
the US – and that the info sought was stored on a server in
Ireland. Microsoft refused to comply with the warrant, arguing
the US had no authority outside its territory.

In 2014, the Obama administration argued in court that global
jurisdiction was necessary at a time when “electronic
communications are used extensively by criminals of all types in
the United States and abroad, from fraudsters to hackers to drug
dealers, in furtherance of violations of US laws.

Microsoft’s lawyer, E. Joshua Rosenkranz, argued in court that if
other countries required Microsoft to provide them with e-mails
of customers located in the US, “we would consider that an
astounding infringement of our sovereignty
,” according to
Bloomberg News.

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However, Federal US District Judge Loretta Preska agreed with the
Obama administration and ruled that it was a question of control
over, not the location of, the information and Microsoft must
turn it over. Tech companies, including Microsoft, argued the
Obama administration’s position put the US tech sector in
conflict with foreign data protection laws.

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The ruling is now on hold, pending review by a federal appeals
court. But tech companies are worried that if the Preska ruling
is upheld on appeal, foreign users could lose more confidence in
US companies’ cloud and tech offerings.

Hatch’s legislation would not effect current laws in the US that
require American companies – when presented with a warrant – to
hand over data stored on US servers no matter the target’s
nationality. This is the second time the legislation has been

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