Second Circuit: Warrant may not Compel Production of Emails from Ireland

In re a Warrant to Search a Certain E-mail Account Controlled & Maintained by Microsoft Corp., No. 14-2985 (2d Cir. July 14, 2016)

In this case, Microsoft Corporation appealed orders from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denying its motion to quash a warrant issued under § 2703 of the Stored Communications Act and holding Microsoft in contempt for “refusing to execute the Warrant on the government’s behalf.”  The warrant directed Microsoft to “seize and produce the contents of an e-mail account that it maintains for a customer who uses the company’s electronic communications services.” Although Microsoft produced the relevant customer’s non-content information which was stored in the United States, it refused to access and import data that was stored and maintained in Ireland.

Ultimately, following substantial analysis of the issues before it, the Second Circuit Court concluded that “§ 2703 of the Stored Communications Act does not authorize courts to issue and enforce against U.S.-based service providers warrants for the seizure of customer e-mail content that is stored exclusively on foreign servers.”  Summing up its opinion, the court concluded:

We conclude that Congress did not intend the SCA’s warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially. The focus of those provisions is protection of a user’s privacy interests.  Accordingly, the SCA does not authorize a U.S. court to issue and enforce an SCA warrant against a United States-based service provider for the contents of a customer’s electronic communications stored on servers located outside the United States. The SCA warrant in this case may not lawfully be used to compel Microsoft to produce to the government the contents of a customer’s e-mail account stored exclusively in Ireland.  Because Microsoft has otherwise complied with the Warrant, it has no remaining lawful obligation to produce materials to the government.

A full copy of the court’s opinion is available here.

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