The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has asked the Supreme Court to abandon its case against Microsoft over international data privacy after a law was signed to legally collect the data stored on foreign soil. The DoJ, in a court filing posted late on Saturday, said the new law signed by President Donald Trump last week (on March 23) answered the legal question at the heart of Microsoft’s case. “So the case ‘is now moot’,” CNN quoted the DoJ as saying. Microsoft’s legal battle began in 2013 when it refused to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland to US officials. It argued that sharing data stored on foreign soil could violate international treaties and policies and there was no law to provide any clarity.
The CLOUD Act, which was enacted on March 23 as part of the spending bill, established a legal pathway for the US to form agreements with other nations making it easier for the law enforcement to collect data stored abroad. Microsoft batted in favour of the new law, saying the CLOUD Act provides a legal clarity the company sought. Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft, said the inclusion of the CLOUD Act in the funding bill negotiated by congressional leaders of both parties was a critical step forward in resolving an issue that has been the subject of litigation for over four years. “The proposed CLOUD Act creates a modern legal framework for how law enforcement agencies can access data across borders,” Smith wrote in a blog on March 21.
“It’s a strong statute and a good compromise that reflects recent bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, as well as support from the Department of Justice, the White House, the National Association of Attorneys General and a broad cross section of technology companies,” he added. Smith highlighted that the law also responds directly to the needs of foreign governments frustrated about their inability to investigate crimes in their own countries. “Once passed, the US government will need to move quickly to establish with other like-minded countries new international agreements, similar to what has already been negotiated between the US and the UK,” Smith added. Although the measure was supported by major tech giants, several privacy and civil liberties advocates criticised it.
According to CNN, advocacy groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are wary. They opposed the CLOUD Act arguing that the law would not ensure the US sufficiently vets requests from other countries. “They fear the US could wind up handing over data to another country that will be used in bad faith,” said CNN quoting a post written by representatives of the groups.