Congress will have another crack at a data privacy topic close to Microsoft’s heart.
A trio of Senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would limit the scope of U.S. law enforcement to reach data stored abroad.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Dean Heller, and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to prevent prosecutors from grabbing data stored abroad unless the owner of the data was a U.S. person or company. The measure would also give courts the ability to void or modify warrants seeking foreign-stored data from service providers if the court finds that turning that data over would violate the laws of a foreign country.
Hatch introduced the same bill — dubbed the LEADS Act — last year, but it didn’t go anywhere before Congress adjourned. LEADS stands, clumsily, for “Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad.”
Microsoft, caught between government demands and its effort to reassure customers that their data is free from improper government collection, has campaigned for such a policy tweak.
It’s also making its case in court. Microsoft, ordered by prosecutors in Dec. 2013 to turn over the contents of an email account, refused to do so on the grounds that the government doesn’t have the authority to get data because it was held in servers in Ireland.
The government argued that existing law gave it the authority to get a warrant for the emails. Two federal courts sided with the government, and Microsoft is appealing the case.
“Microsoft supports the LEADS Act for its common sense reforms,” Brad Smith, the company’s general counsel, said in a blog post on Thursday. “Citizens around the world don’t believe their privacy rights are sufficiently protected, while law enforcement officials express concerns about their ability to do their jobs.”
Smith and Microsoft’s lawyers have cobbled together an impressive roster of supporters to their legal appeal, from Apple to Verizon and Amazon.com. A similarly broad coalition, including business groups and companies from Microsoft to IBM and Rackspace, voiced support for the LEADS Act in a letter on Thursday.