Is it incumbent on an American company to turn over data to law enforcement agencies when demanded even if such data are stored overseas? This issue is at the core of a case involving Microsoft that the the US Supreme Court is set to hear on Tuesday.
The case could have far reaching implications with regard to privacy concerns of international customers of American technology companies on the one hand and law enforcement access to digital data on the other.
The litigation turns on a 1986 law, the Stored Communications Act, passed long before American companies began storing massive amounts of data outside US borders, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The case began in 2013 when federal agents conducting a drug investigation obtained a warrant for a suspect's emails.
But the emails that they were stored in Dublin, Ireland, and Microsoft argued that the warrant could not reach beyond US borders.
Microsoft says it stores emails close to their owner in order to make retrieval faster and, according to the tech giant, the Government did not suggested that the concerned individual resided in the US.
Microsoft has framed the case as one of digital privacy.
E. Joshua Rosenkranz, who will argue Microsoft's case, called the government's position "a recipe for global chaos," the Post reported.
"If ever there were a step that is sure to stoke international tension, it is sidestepping the treaties that were negotiated by countries precisely to protect their sovereignty, and instead unilaterally obtaining reams of personal letters....If another country did this to us, we would be outraged at the most basic level," Rosenkranz was quoted as saying.
Microsoft reportedly has the backing of major US technology giants including Google and IBM.
The case centres on the Stored Communications Act's (SCA) territorial reach, and the government argues that the SCA focuses on the emails' "disclosure" and that Microsoft employees could retrieve them "without leaving their desks in the United States," the Post reported.