Passage of the Cloud Act, which sets out a process for how to deal with government requests for digital data held overseas, is tied to Congress' omnibus spending bill. The act would resolve the central question in the Microsoft case before the Supreme Court.
Microsoft’s case before the Supreme Court concerning cross-border digital privacy could end before the justices ever hand down a ruling.
The omnibus spending bill that sped through Congress includes the Cloud Act, recently introduced legislation that sets out a process for how to deal with law-enforcement requests for digital customer data stored in international data centers.
The budget bill was approved by the House on Thursday and the Senate followed suit early Friday morning. When the president signs it, the Cloud Act will then become law, and the Supreme Court might decide not to rule on the Microsoft case because the central question would be answered.
Microsoft argued its data privacy case against the U.S. government before the high court last month, in a long-running legal dispute that concerns a Microsoft cloud-computing customer’s data stored digitally in a data center in Ireland. U.S. law enforcement requested in 2013 that Microsoft turn over the customer’s email data, saying it was pertinent in a narcotics-related investigation.
Microsoft refused because the data was stored internationally and said the U.S. would have to work with Irish authorities to obtain it. The current U.S. data privacy law, the Stored Communications Act, does not explicitly address if it applies overseas. That law was enacted in 1986, long before cloud-computing technology was developed.
Microsoft and a legion of other tech companies and law enforcement agencies have thrown their weight behind the Cloud Act, which would allow U.S. data providers to turn over information stored internationally if a request from U.S. law enforcement was legitimate, the customer was a U.S. resident and it did not breach the law of a foreign nation.
It leaves the door open for data-service providers to challenge the request if they believe it would break another law.
But digital privacy organizations have opposed the proposed law, asserting it was written to protect governments and providers, but not consumers.
“Because of failures by some lawmakers to review and markup legislation in a responsible manner, the dangerous cross-border data bill the CLOUD Act was just approved by the House of Representatives,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation tweeted Thursday.
Microsoft celebrated the inclusion of the Cloud Act in the spending bill Wednesday night, with President Brad Smith issuing a statement calling it “an important day for privacy rights around the world.”
The Supreme Court was not expected to issue a decision on the Microsoft case until June, and some justices had indicated during arguments that the topic might be more appropriate for Congress to address.