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Amazon, Microsoft and Apple back Google in overseas data storage dispute

Fellow tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Cisco have come out in support of Google’s resistance to hand over data stored overseas in response to an FBI warrant.

The tech giants filed an amicus brief last week, a document filed by groups with significant interest in a case but no direct involvement, related to a case in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter ruled in February that Google had to hand over information stored overseas related to a domestic fraud investigation.

Google plans to appeal the ruling, a spokesperson told The Register last month.

“The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on over-broad warrants.”

At issue in the case is an interpretation of the Stored Communications Act enacted as part of the broader Electronic Communications Privacy Act that Congress passed in 1986, well before the proliferation of the internet.

If the SCA sounds familiar, it’s because it has been the main point of contention in another government versus technology battle over data and privacy. In January a federal appeals court narrowly declined to rehear a case involving attempts by the U.S. Justice Department to access customer data stored on a Microsoft server in Ireland.

The decision meant that U.S. authorities wouldn’t be able to invoke the SCA to access customer data stored outside the country. Google, and its fellow tech titans, argue the judge’s decision in this case goes against precedent set by the Microsoft Ireland dispute.

Google contends in its legal filings in the case, and the other tech companies agree, that it is up to Congress to change laws related to the SCA if law enforcement agencies want to gain access to data stored on overseas servers. Otherwise, it’s an invasion of users’ privacy.

The tech companies argue that rulings like this could also violate privacy laws of other countries, and may set the precedent for other nations to come looking for data stored in the U.S.

“Authorizing such wide-ranging international warrants would also invite foreign nations to reciprocate, demanding access to communications stored in the United States without regard for U.S. law,” according to the amicus brief. “The United States would have little ground to object if Russia or China or Saudi Arabia instructed a service provider operating within its territory to turn over private electronic communications stored within the United States, without the permission of the United States or the U.S.-based customer and without any federal court warrant. After all, under the magistrate judge’s reasoning, that would be a purely domestic act by that foreign nation.”

Tech firms have repeatedly supported each other in data privacy fights with the federal government. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and many others stood with Apple in its fight against the FBI over unlocking the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone. In the Microsoft Ireland case, amicus briefs supporting Microsoft’s claim were filed by 28 technology and media companies, 23 trade associations and advocacy groups, 35 of the nation’s leading computer scientists and the government of Ireland.

Here is the full amicus brief from Amazon, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft:

Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft Amicus Brief by Nat Levy on Scribd


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