PHILADELPHIA – Data can still be subject to search
warrants issued in the United States even if it is stored in another
country, according to a
federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Thomas J. Rueter, magistrate judge for the
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania ordered Google to follow the
demands of three search warrants issued by the U.S. government requiring the company to turn over electronic data
even though it was stored outside the country. In reaching his Feb. 3 decision, Rueter ruled that compelling Google to produce the data
does not constitute an unlawful extraterritorial application of the
Stored Communications Act (SCA).
SCA is a federal law that establishes the
requirements for providers of electronic communications services and
remote computing services. The act includes certain exceptions
such as 18 U.S.C. 2703, which states that the government may obtain
access to basic subscriber and transaction information through an
administrative subpoena. This allows the federal government to obtain
non-content records or material that is relevant to a criminal
investigation from digital service providers in this way.
this case, the main source of contention is related to data requested
from Google that was stored in systems outside of the U.S.
Because the requested data was not in a system contained within
U.S. borders, Google argues that data was outside of the
For that reason, the company responded
by only producing the data that was pertinent to the warrants that
Google could confirm was stored in the U.S. at the time of
“Normally the fact that the law enforcement agency was
able to get a search warrant is an indicator that they were at very
least following proper protocol,” said Dennis Giever, professor of criminology
and criminal justice at the Institute for Cyber Security at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania.
“But that also doesn't mean that Google
won't have grounds to fight those requests and that it could serve as
the grounds for conflict that could go all the way to the Supreme
government responded to Google's evasion by filing a motion to force the company to produce the entirety of the data it had
requested as per Matter
of Warrant to Search a Certain E-mail Account Controlled and
Maintained by Microsoft Corp. Google
responded by saying that it was not required to produce data stored
outside of the U.S. because the warrant does not reach
beyond the country's borders.
“Typically our Constitution does not
reach into other countries,” Giever said. “But the Supreme Court
has ruled that it is legal for law enforcement to bring people back
to the United States against their will, even if it violates the laws
of the country they are being recovered from. So there is some
established precedent here.”
argument was rejected by Rueter, who granted the government’s
motion to compel.
“Normally, the United States Government is not
beholden to the laws of other countries when it enforces its own
laws.” Grieves said. “But there are exceptions when it comes to
companies as opposed to private individuals.”