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Attorney General Stein Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether Email Providers Can Shield Criminal Evidence by Storing Data on Foreign Servers

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(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether email service providers can shield evidence of a crime from law enforcement by storing data outside the United States. Stein took this action along with 33 other state attorneys general in support of a U.S. Department of Justice’s request related to a Microsoft case.

“My top priority is protecting the people of North Carolina,” said Attorney General Stein. “That includes protecting them from all types of crime – a goal that requires law enforcement officers to have access to all relevant evidence for an investigation. It is my hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will clarify that law enforcement can access these emails to bring criminals to justice.”

In the Microsoft case, a federal judge issued a search warrant under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), authorizing the search of a specific Microsoft Outlook email account. The judge found probable cause to believe the account was being used to traffic narcotics in the United States. An email provider who receives a warrant under the SCA for evidence of a crime must disclose the requested data to the law enforcement agency. In this case, Microsoft argued compliance with the warrant was not required because the data was stored on a server in Ireland. Microsoft asserted it would be an impermissible extraterritorial application of the SCA to require the company to retrieve data from a foreign server, even though Microsoft could access that data from its offices in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Microsoft and quashed the warrant. The federal government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse the Second Circuit’s decision.

Attorney General Stein signed this brief along with the States of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484


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