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Microsoft backs CLOUD Act’s inclusion in Congressional spending bill

As the Supreme Court mulls arguments in a privacy fight between Microsoft and the Justice Department, a piece of legislation currently making its way through Congress could help bring an end to the matter.

The CLOUD (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data) Act, which would create a legal structure for how law enforcement can request private data stored by companies overseas, has been included as part of the omnibus spending bill currently under consideration in Congress. Microsoft, who has been a big proponent of the CLOUD Act, reiterated its support this week by backing the legislation’s inclusion in the spending bill. From Microsoft:

The proposed CLOUD Act creates a modern legal framework for how law enforcement agencies can access data across borders. It’s a strong statute and a good compromise that reflects recent bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, as well as support from the Department of Justice, the White House, the National Association of Attorneys General and a broad cross section of technology companies. It also responds directly to the needs of foreign governments frustrated about their inability to investigate crimes in their own countries. The CLOUD Act addresses all of this, while ensuring appropriate protections for privacy and human rights. And it gives tech companies like Microsoft the ability to stand up for the privacy rights of our customers around the world. The bill also includes a strong statement about the importance of preventing governments from using the new law to require that U.S. companies create backdoors around encryption, an important additional privacy safeguard.

The budget bill successfully passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, and the Senate will consider it next. If it passes, the legistlation could impact whether the Supreme Court opts to issue a ruling in a pending case involving data stored overseas.

The legal fight dates back to 2013, when Microsoft was served with a domestic warrant for emails stored on a data center in Ireland. Microsoft argues that U.S. law doesn’t grant the government the right to access private information stored abroad, instead suggesting that the government should work with Irish authorities to secure the information. The government argues that Microsoft should be forced to turn over the data because it is headquartered in the U.S. An appeals court previously sided with Microsoft in 2016.

Though the CLOUD Act has been embraced by major tech firms like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, it has its opponents. Following the passage of the omnibus bill in the House of Representatives today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “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 in a 256-167 vote for a massive omnibus spending bill.”

Should the CLOUD Act pass, Microsoft says “the U.S. government will need to move quickly to establish with other like-minded countries new international agreements, similar to what has already been negotiated between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.”

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