Privacy rights at stake in SCOTUS case

The US Supreme Court will, in the next couple of months, issue a ruling in a case that could have broad consequences. The case is United States v. Microsoft Corp. and according to SCOTUSblog, the issue before the Court is “Whether a United States provider of email services must comply with a probable-cause-based warrant… by making disclosure in the United States of electronic communications within that provider’s control, even if the provider has decided to store that material abroad.”

In other words, the Court will decide whether or not the US government can compel a company to provide data that is physically located in a different legal jurisdiction.

Reuters reports, “The case began with a 2013 warrant obtained by prosecutors for emails of a suspect in a drug trafficking investigation that were stored in Microsoft computer servers in Dublin. The company challenged whether a domestic warrant covered data stored abroad.” The DOJ said prosecutors were entitled to the data because Microsoft is based in the United States.

In 2016, the New York-based 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Microsoft, which CNBC reports “marked a victory for tech firms that increasingly offer cloud computing services in which data is stored remotely.” CNBC added, “the appeals court said the emails were beyond the reach of domestic search warrants obtained under a 1986 U.S. law called the Stored Communications Act.”

The federal government argues that a ruling for Microsoft “would hamper domestic law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts.” Whether that argument is enough to sway the Court to rule for the feds is yet to be seen, however in 2012 & 2014 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting rights of the accused saying that warrants are required to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle (2012), and to search a cellphone seized during an arrest (2014).

Regardless the outcome of this case, if you want to retain any amount of privacy online – and yes, I know the internet is a public forum which by definition is antithetical to privacy – you should consider at a minimum using a Virtual Private Network, preferably one that doesn’t keep logs, to at least obscure the location of your internet traffic. The EFF has more suggestions that you may want to consider implementing. Though at the end of the day, if the feds want to find you, they can; however you can, and if your actions are non-violent and not causing harm to anyone else should, make it more difficult.