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Tech titan pals back up Google after 'foreign server data' FBI warrant ruling

Means providers'll be 'forced to violate foreign privacy law'

By Alexander J Martin, 14 Mar 2017

The kindly community of benevolent technology corporations has written to a Pennsylvania court to support Google as it fends off a warrant demanding information stored on overseas servers.

The warrants were issued as part of two criminal investigations led by the FBI. In them, the government has demanded, among the other things, the “contents of three separate Google 'Gmail' email accounts”, despite Microsoft's legal victory against a similar order last July, which limited the US Government's ability to demand data located in foreign territories.

But a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled in early February that the tech firm had to turn over data stored on overseas servers, arguing that since the suspects' data would be "searched" on US soil, there would be no "extraterritoriality" to Google's compliance with the Stored Communications Act warrants.

In a series of amicus briefs, corporations including Microsoft, Apple, the soon-to-be-Marissa-Mayer-less Yahoo!, Amazon and Cisco wrote to complain about the February ruling in the Google case.

Yahoo's filing argued that the magistrate judge in February “improperly rewrote the SCA to create a hybrid warrant — setting off a chain of events that creates confusion, ignores international law and interests, and makes it more difficult for providers like Yahoo with subsidiaries that manage and control data outside the U.S. to honor their obligations to customers, the U.S., and the foreign countries in which they operate.”

Meanwhile, Apple used its brief to suggest Congress rewrite the Stored Communications Act, criticising the magistrate judge for overstepping his boundaries in determining the reach of law enforcement. Writing that “only Congress can decide whether and how to update the SCA”, Apple's brief explained the ramifications of the court's demands:

So bold a projection of US law enforcement power into foreign countries would show disdain for their sovereignty and threaten to disrupt the harmony existing between the United States and other nations. It also disregards the carefully calibrated, comity-protective framework established through MLATs and other bilateral agreements. And it might put service providers in the untenable position of being forced to violate foreign privacy law in order to comply with warrants issued by US courts.

The cases are both in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The information sought is to do with three Gmail accounts which the FBI would like to search, along with any associated Google Services related to those three accounts, for the time period ranging from November 10, 2008 through January 1, 2016.

Another warrant called for Google to provide items including “[t]he contents of all communications and related transactional records for all Google Services ever used by the [three Gmail accounts] including but not limited to incoming, outgoing, draft, deleted, and new/unopened emails, all email attachments (including native files), and all … other electronic communications[.]”

The government's seizure has been limited to “the contents of all files, documents, images, videos, emails … and communications in the [three email] accounts[.]” ®

The cases are: U.S. v. Information Associated With Google Accounts More Fully Described in Attachment A, case numbers 2:16-mj-00960 and 2:16-mj-01061, both in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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