Our search warrant case: An important decision for people everywhere

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in a case brought by Microsoft addressing the global application of U.S. search warrants for people’s email. The court ruled in favor of Microsoft overturning an earlier ruling from a lower court.

We obviously welcome today’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries; it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain; and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs.

First, this decision provides a major victory for the protection of people’s privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments. It makes clear that the U.S. Congress did not give the U.S. government the authority to use search warrants unilaterally to reach beyond U.S. borders. As a global company we’ve long recognized that if people around the world are to trust the technology they use, they need to have confidence that their personal information will be protected by the laws of their own country.

While Microsoft filed and persisted with this case, we benefited every step of the way from the broad support of many others. We are grateful for this support, including the filing of amicus briefs in the case by 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, 35 of the nation’s leading computer scientists and the government of Ireland itself. The enormous breadth of this support has been vital to the issue, and it remains so as we look to the future.

Second, since the day we filed this case, we’ve underscored our belief that technology needs to advance, but timeless values need to endure. Privacy and the proper rule of law stand among these timeless values. We hear from customers around the world that they want the traditional privacy protections they’ve enjoyed for information stored on paper to remain in place as data moves to the cloud. Today’s decision helps ensure this result.

Finally, as we’ve recognized since we filed this case, the protection of privacy and the needs of law enforcement require new legal solutions that reflect the world that exists today – rather than technologies that existed three decades ago when current law was enacted. We’re encouraged by the recent bipartisan support that has emerged in Congress to consider a new International Communications Privacy Act. We’re also encouraged by the work of the U.S. Justice Department in pursuing a new bilateral treaty approach with the government of the United Kingdom.

Today’s decision means it is even more important for Congress and the executive branch to come together to modernize the law. This requires both new domestic legislation and new international treaties. We should not continue to wait. We’re confident that the technology sector will continue to roll up its sleeves to work with people in government in a constructive way. We hope that today’s decision will bring an impetus for faster government action so that both privacy and law enforcement needs can advance in a manner that respects people’s rights and laws around the world.

About the Author

President and Chief Legal Officer

Brad Smith is Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer. Smith plays a key role in representing the company externally and in leading the company’s work on a number of critical issues including privacy, security, accessibility, environmental sustainability and digital inclusion, among others.