Europe to force tech companies to release data stored in international servers

The European Commission wants to follow U.S. action giving access to data stored in foreign servers. The EC is proposing to grant judges the authority to access terror and crime suspects’ private communications stored by big tech companies in servers regardless of where they are situated abroad (The Guardian).

 This U.S Congress recently passed the Cloud Act which allows federal law enforcement to extract data stored in foreign servers from U.S.-based tech companies (Reuters).

These new extraterritorial powers would enable Europe’s national judges to quickly seize data from servers located in other European countries or countries outside the union. These warrants will be used in cases involving terrorism or serious crimes (The Financial Times).

The commission also wants law enforcement authorities to have access to both domestic and international bank information to cut off international financing of active European terror groups (The Guardian).

Campaigning group European Digital Rights has said that these extraterritorial powers pose a threat to a person’s fundamental rights (The Guardian).

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Big tech companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly storing user information on network clouds located anywhere, making data border a growing issue for governments (Reuters).

On April 17, the U.S. Supreme Court dropped Microsoft’s case which involved a federal drug investigation requesting the suspect’s emails stored in the company’s server in Dublin, Ireland. The new ‘Cloud’ Act passed by US Congress on March 23 2018 has rendered Microsoft Corp’s privacy fight against the Justice Department obsolete according to the US Supreme Court (The New York Times).

On February 27, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito ruled in favour of the Justice Department, arguing that because Microsoft Corp is based in the United States, it had an obligation to hand over the data stored abroad in accordance with the warrant. Microsoft then challenged the authority of a domestic warrant, arguing it did not cover data stored overseas (Reuters). This resulted in American justices urging US Congress to pass a law updating the then standing 1986 Stored Communication Act (The New York Times).

Once the new Cloud – Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data – Act was passed, the Justice Department issued a new warrant which resulted in the Supreme Court labelling the case as moot (The New York Times).

Europe has now also joined the conversation, the European Commission’s vice-president, Frans Timmermans, has said: “Electronic evidence is increasingly important in criminal proceedings. We cannot allow criminals and terrorists to exploit modern and electronic communication technologies to hide their criminal actions and evade justice.

“There must be no hiding place for criminals and terrorists in Europe, online or offline.”

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Microsoft’s lawyers wrote in a statement: “Congress was always the proper forum for updating the 1986 law and Congress has now acted.”

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