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In U.S. v. Microsoft, warrant should trump privacy

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Rachel Rhodes

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next week in a case that pits the federal government against Microsoft in a clash over the privacy of emails stored abroad. The case originated in 2013 when Microsoft refused to comply with a federal government warrant requesting access to emails stored in Ireland that were linked to a drug trafficking investigation

Stephen Wicker

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Cornell University engineering professor Stephen Wicker has briefed the U.S. government on cybersecurity, information technology and privacy concerns, and is the author of “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy”. Wicker says that though the privacy of emails is critical, companies should not be able to avoid a warrant by sheltering information abroad.

Wicker says:

“In this case a warrant was issued by a court upon demonstration that there was probable cause of the commission of a specific crime, and therefore not a fishing expedition.

“The fact that the Microsoft emails at issue are stored in another country is a technical detail. If the Stored Communications Act is found to not include information stored abroad, it would be far too easy for a large company to move any information that had been requested to a foreign server.

“Had there been no warrant requiring disclosure of the emails, I would be firmly against Microsoft’s release of the information no matter where it was stored. Emails reflect, and are arguably an extension of, the contents of the mind and are deeply personal. A warrant should be required to gain access to such materials, but given the provision of a warrant, the emails should be turned over to law enforcement.”

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