New US Senate bill aims to limit access to emails stored abroad

The legislation follows Microsoft's refusal to turn in emails in Ireland to U.S. law enforcement

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday aims to place limits on access by U.S. law enforcement agencies to emails and other communications stored abroad.

The proposed legislation comes against the backdrop of a dispute between Microsoft and the government, in which the tech company has refused to hand over emails held by it at a facility in Dublin, Ireland.

The new bill, called the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act, aims to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to authorize the use of search warrants extraterritorially, only where the government wants to obtain the contents of electronic communications belonging to a U.S citizen or permanent resident alien or a company incorporated in the U.S.

It also provides that the court issuing the warrant shall modify or vacate the warrant, if it finds that it would require the communications provider or remote computing service to violate the laws of a foreign country.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah and current member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and member of the Judiciary Committee, and Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada.

"The government's position that ECPA warrants do apply abroad puts U.S. cloud providers in the position of having to break the privacy laws of foreign countries in which they do business in order to comply with U.S. law," Coons said in a statement.

"This bill proposes a more principled legal blueprint for balancing law enforcement needs with consumer privacy rights," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a blog post. "It also creates an important model that will help advance the international conversation that is so critically needed."

U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in April declined to quash a December warrant that authorized the search and seizure of information, including content and identifiers such as name and physical address, of a Web-based email account stored at Microsoft's premises.

The company held that courts in the U.S. are not authorized to issue warrants for extraterritorial search and seizure, but Judge Francis held that a warrant under the Stored Communications Act, a part of the ECPA, was "a hybrid: part search warrant and part subpoena." It is executed like a subpoena in that it is served on the Internet service provider who is required to provide the information from its servers wherever located, and does not involve government officials entering the premises, he noted.

Microsoft is appealing the order after some procedures are met.

There are some specific concerns with the bill, wrote Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at online civil liberties organization Center for Democracy & Technology in a blog post, while applauding the bill's overall thrust.

One odd result will be that the LEADS Act would establish one rule - the extraterritorial warrant - for U.S. law enforcement to access content that a U.S. provider stores abroad on behalf of an American, and the multinational Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, or MLAT process, for a person who sits in the cubical next door, but who may be a non-citizen working in the U.S. on a temporary visa, Nojeim wrote. MLAT governs exchange of information between countries for law enforcement purposes.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. SenateInternet-based applications and servicessecurityMicrosoftlegislationgovernmentinternetprivacy

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?