Supreme Court drops Microsoft data privacy case, but the battle isn't over

The Supreme Court won't be ruling on Microsoft's ongoing data privacy fight over emails stored in Ireland. But the matter is far from settled.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Cloud spending surges but customers wary of 'lock in'

On April 17, the US Supreme court dropped the Microsoft vs. US DoJ case over data privacy. But that doesn't mean Microsoft's fight is over.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in February over Microsoft's ongoing data privacy case involving email stored in Microsoft datacenter in Ireland. According to reports from those attending, the justices didn't seem swayed by Microsoft's claims that data stored overseas should not be accessible to government prosecutors. A ruling in the case wasn't expected until the end of June 2018.

Since then, the US Congress passed The CLOUD (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data) Act. Parties on all sides of the case expected the passage of the Act to render the original Microsoft vs. DOJ case moot. Today, that came to pass.

However, the government isn't giving up on pursuing Microsoft in the matter. In March, the Justice Department was granted a new search warrant meant to force Microsoft to turn over the emails in question. Microsoft officials said they are reviewing the new DOJ warrant before deciding how to proceed.

Read also: What's the best cloud storage for you? | Top cloud providers 2018: How AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, Alibaba stack up | We found 22 cloud services your business definitely needs to try | Everything you need to know about the cloud, explained

Microsoft officials repeatedly have said they were in favor of legislation, not legal action, in settling these kinds of matters. Though it seems contradictory, Microsoft actually backed The CLOUD Act, which stipulates that cloud providers comply with court orders for data regardless of whether the information is located in the US or not.

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith has said Microsoft backed The CLOUD Act because it sets the stage for governments to establish the international agreements between them to establish a framework for these kinds of cases.

Microsoft's data-privacy case began in 2013 over emails from a drug trafficking investigation suspect stored in Microsoft servers in Dublin. A federal judge in New York issued a warrant for the emails, and Microsoft decided to challenge the order in court.

Update: Microsoft released the following statement from Smith on April 17 regarding the Supreme Court's move.

"We welcome the Supreme Court's ruling ending our case in light of the CLOUD Act being signed into to law. Our goal has always been a new law and international agreements with strong privacy protections that govern how law enforcement gathers digital evidence across borders. As the governments of the UK and Australia have recognized, the CLOUD Act encourages these types of agreements, and we urge the US government to move quickly to negotiate them."

In Memoriam: All the consumer products Microsoft has killed off

Editorial standards