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Microsoft gets allies to help tell US to back off on Irish search warrant

Grant Gross | Dec. 16, 2014
Allies file 10 briefs supporting the company in its fight against a search warrant for email on an Irish server.

Digital documents are not just property, but they are part of a person's "digital self," said Nuala O'Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It's not just going to be email," she said. "Ten years from now ... every thought and every communication and every transaction I do will be online. That's not a business record -- that's my life."

Instead of serving a search warrant on Microsoft, the DOJ should work through its mutual assistance agreement with the government of Ireland to gain access to the records, Smith argued. Microsoft will comply with a legal request from Ireland for records stored in an Irish data center, he said.

The technology of global storage may change the way search warrants work, suggested retired TV anchor Charlie Gibson, who served as a moderator at Monday's event. "This is a whole new world" since Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in 1986, Gibson said. "Nobody has to go to Ireland to get it. It can be retrieved by a simple keystroke."

While the technology has changed, long-held privacy principles should not, said Andrew Pincus, a partner at the Mayer Brown and an advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups. If a U.S. bank had a branch in Ireland "no one in the world" would think that a search warrant would allow U.S. investigators to demand document stored in a safe-deposit box in the Irish bank, he said.

"The question is, should that change in technology automatically, without anyone thinking about it, effect a huge expansion of the U.S., government's power at the expense of other nations?" Pincus said.

Internet users' information is stored with many companies, Gibson noted. He suggested people may need to trust the government they elected "to be judicious" about the information they try to collect. "We basically have to put our faith in somebody, don't we?"

Panelists pointed to the widespread surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

"There have got to be rules, and rules have got be followed," the Center for Democracy and Technology's O'Connor said. "Just because the technology allows us unfettered access into voluminous amount of data that's out there about people's lives does not mean [the government] should have unfettered access to it."


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