U.S. Bill Would Ban DoJ Warrant for Email in Overseas Microsoft Server

NEWS ANALYSIS: U.S. legislators are backing a bill that would ban the use of warrants to grab data in overseas computers, the same type of warrant Microsoft is currently fighting.  

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Microsoft's troubles with the U.S. Department of Justice would come to an immediate end with the passage of the LEADS Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 12.

The bill, known more formally as the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act, would among other things put a stop to the Justice Department's demand that Microsoft turn over emails stored on a server overseas.

The LEADS Act would allow law enforcement officials to get access to electronic data on the same basis as other material that's held in non-electronic form. Briefly this means that for law enforcement to get access to data stored outside the U.S., the request must either use a mutual assistance treaty or it must belong to a U.S citizen. Currently, the Justice Department is trying to get email messages belonging to a European Union citizen that are stored on a server in Ireland.

This is the second time the Senate has considered the LEADS Act, which was originally introduced last fall, but Congress adjourned for the year before it could go to a vote. The bill was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.; and Sen Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The House of Representatives is readying a similar bill that been co-sponsored by more than half of the members of that body, although it has yet to be formally introduced on the House floor.

One of the purposes of the LEADS Act is to restore international cooperation, which has been set back by the actions of the Justice Department to the extent that a number of European nations are working on laws that would restrict the ability of U.S. companies to operate in the EU because of the attempts by prosecutors in the U.S. to force access to data held by European entities.

"The LEADS Act promotes U.S. business by allowing U.S. companies to compete on a level playing field. The LEADS Act would clarify ECPA by stating that the U.S. government cannot compel the disclosure of data from U.S. providers stored abroad if accessing that data would violate the laws of the country where it is stored or if the data is not associated with a U.S. person," Hatch said in his keynote address at an event the day the bill was introduced.

"Without this legislative change, a German tech company could claim that German citizens should not use U.S. Internet services because those services are more vulnerable to U.S. law enforcement collection efforts," Hatch stated as a hypothetical situation, although exactly this scenario is taking place in Europe now.

The LEADS Act is getting a lot of strong support from the technology community, as you would expect. A number of companies, including Microsoft, IBM, the Business Software Alliance, Cisco and Verizon, have announced their support for the bill on Twitter.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...