Big Privacy Ruling Says Feds Can’t Grab Data Abroad With a Warrant

An appeals court just sent the American Justice Department a clear message about its ability to reach beyond US borders to collect data with a search warrant: Keep your hands to yourself.

In Thursday’s landmark ruling, a panel of Second Circuit judges decided that Microsoft can’t be forced to turn over the email communications of a criminal suspect in a drug investigation whose emails were stored at Microsoft’s data center in Dublin, Ireland. The judge’s decision states that under the Stored Communications Act, a search warrant sent to Microsoft can’t be applied internationally. That decision overturns a New York court’s ruling and sets a new precedent that limits American prosecutors’ ability to pull foreign communications data out of data centers beyond US borders—even when the company itself is headquartered in the US.

The ruling comes in a case that stretches back to 2013, when Microsoft refused to comply with a warrant for a criminal suspect’s emails stored outside the US. Prosecutors accused Microsoft of contempt of court, but never publicly named their suspect. In just the last month, however, the Times of London reported that the suspect is 28-year-old Gary Davis, an Irish man suspected of being an administrator of the dark web drug marketplace known as the Silk Road. He’s currently fighting extradition to the US to face criminal charges.

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