Law School Case Brief
In re A Warrant to Search a Certain E-Mail Account Controlled & Maintained by Microsoft Corp. - 15 F. Supp. 3d 466 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)
The Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 2701 et seq., authorizes the government to procure a warrant requiring a provider of electronic communication service to disclose e-mail content in the provider's electronic storage. Although 18 U.S.C.S. § 2703(a) uses the term "warrant" and refers to the use of warrant procedures, the resulting order is not a conventional warrant; rather, the order is a hybrid: part search warrant and part subpoena. It is obtained like a search warrant when an application is made to a neutral magistrate who issues the order only upon a showing of probable cause. On the other hand, it is executed like a subpoena in that it is served on the provider in possession of the information and does not involve government agents entering the premises of the provider to search its servers and seize the e-mail account in question.
A warrant was issued by a federal district court that authorized the search and seizure of information associated with a specified web-based e-mail account that was stored at premises owned, maintained, controlled, or operated by petitioner Microsoft Corporation. It was the responsibility of Microsoft's Global Criminal Compliance ("GCC") team to respond to a search warrant seeking stored electronic information. Working from offices in California and Washington, the GCC team used a database program or "tool" to collect the data. Initially, a GCC team member used the tool to determine where the data for the target account was stored and then collected the information remotely from the server where the data was located, whether in the United States or elsewhere. Microsoft complied with the search warrant to the extent of producing the non-content information stored on servers in the United States. However, after it determined that the target account was hosted in Dublin, Ireland, and the content information stored there, it filed a motion seeking to quash the warrant to the extent that it directed the production of information stored abroad.
Should the warrant be quashed on the grounds that that it directed the production of information stored abroad?
The court denied the motion to quash. The court held that an Internet service provider was required to comply with a warrant to provide information associated with a specified web-based e-mail account which was stored at a data-center in a foreign country, since the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C.S. § 2701 et seq., only required that the warrant be obtained in accordance with federal criminal procedures and did not include the territorial restriction of warrants. In view of the unique circumstances of obtaining digital information, the warrant under the SCA was a hybrid of a search warrant and a subpoena, like a subpoena the requirement to produce information was not subject to limitation based on the location of the information, and no search occurred until the information was reviewed in the United States.
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