DOJ: Microsoft Email Ruling Leaves Evidence Out of Authorities' Hands

In July, a court ruled that Microsoft did not have to hand over emails stored in Ireland. Now, the Justice Department wants the case to be reheard.

Oct 14 2016, 1:30pm

Photo: f9photos/Shutterstock

In July, a court ruled that Microsoft did not have to provide the Department of Justice with the emails of a criminal suspect stored in Ireland. The case reportedly revolves around Gary Davis, who is charged with being a staff member of the dark web marketplace Silk Road.

That ruling was seen as a victory for privacy and civil liberties campaigners. But the DOJ is not giving up. On Thursday, government attorneys filed a petition asking for the case to be reheard.

The July ruling, "is significantly limiting an essential investigative tool used thousands of times a year, harming important criminal investigations around the country, and causing confusion and chaos among providers as they struggle to determine how to comply," the DOJ writes in its petition, filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and sent to Motherboard by DOJ spokesperson Peter Carr.

Back in 2014, a court ordered Microsoft to turn over emails which had been sought with a search warrant. The general concern from Microsoft, and other tech companies, was that the US cannot seize material that is stored in another country: although Microsoft is a US-company, these particular emails were stored in a data centre in Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft appealed, and the decision was overruled in July of this year.

But the DOJ says the decision will have an impact on other cases and types of investigations as well, due, in part, to how technology giants handle their customers information. Other service providers, such as Google or Yahoo, store user emails in a huge series of servers across the world.

"To the extent content is stored abroad by the provider at the moment the warrant is served, the Opinion has now placed it beyond the reach of a Section 2703 warrant, even when the account owner resides in the United States and the crime under investigation is entirely domestic," the filing reads.

"Thus, critical evidence of crimes now rests entirely outside the reach of any law enforcement anywhere in the world, and the randomness of where within an intricate web of servers the requested content resides at a particular moment determines its accessibility to law enforcement," it adds.

Davis, who The Times claims is the email account holder, was charged in 2013 with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, money laundering, and computer hacking, for his alleged role as a staffer on Silk Road. In August, an Irish court ruled to extradite Davis to the US.

Correction: Originally, this article reported the Microsoft email case and the case of Gary Davis as certainly one and the same thing. Instead, the connection to Davis' case is only according to The Times. The piece has been changed to clarify that.