Encryption and Privacy Top Priorities for Tech Firms

The Justice Department and Microsoft go head-to-head in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Wednesday. The battleground? Data privacy. At issue is the question of whether U.S. law enforcement can use a search warrant — in this case, in a drug investigation — to force the U.S.-based technology company to turn over emails it has stored in a data center in Ireland. Lower courts have sided with the government, and held Microsoft in contempt for refusing to comply with the search warrant. Microsoft has appealed, arguing that its data center is subject to Irish and European privacy laws and outside the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities. Civil liberties and internet-privacy advocates are watching the case closely, as are company and law-enforcement lawyers. They're also watching another case, also involving a drug investigation, in which Apple was served with a court order instructing it to turn over text messages between iPhone owners…. “This way, the companies don’t open up the device,” says Peter Swire, an expert on computer security at Georgia Tech who served on President Obama’s task force on surveillance and cybersecurity. “The companies don’t have access to the content between Alice and Bob.” If the company that made the device, or is carrying the communication on its network, can’t eavesdrop on users like Alice and Bob, he says, the FBI and other outside parties can’t either.

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