Qianyao Li

Information Privacy Law

Professor Ira Rubinstein

April 3, 2017

Pennsylvania magistrate judge’s ruling requires Google to turn over data stored outside United States to FBI

On Feb 3, 2017, Pennsylvania Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter granted the Government’s motions to compel Google to comply with search warrants to turn over data stored outside United States.

Google has partially complied with the warrants by producing data that it could confirm is stored on its servers located in the United States. However, has refused to produce other, relying upon a recent decision by Second Circuit, where the court determined that enforcing the warrant by directing Microsoft to size the contents of its customer’s communication stored in Ireland would be an unlawful extraterritorial application of the Stored Communication Act (“SCA”). Microsoft, 829 F.3d 194 (2d Cir. 2016).

Magistrate Rueter was not troubled by the fact that the information was stored abroad. Instead, he concluded that the warrants are applied within United States since “the search of electronic data disclosed by Google pursuant to the warrants will occur in the United States when the FBI reviews the copies of the requested data in Pennsylvania.In re Search Warrant No. 16-960-M-01, No. 16-960-M-01, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15232 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 3, 2017).

Magistrate Rueter distinguished this case from Microsoft by the fact that there is no evidence regarding the precise location of the servers which store the electronic data requested by the search warrants; While in Microsoft, all the relevant user data of a presumably Irish citizen was located exclusively in one data center in Ireland and remained stable there for a significant period of time. It seems Magistrate was saying that the extraterritorial application of SCA should be determined by the place where FBI will review the copies, because it is hard to locate the place where electronic data is stored.

The briefs from Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco Systems, Apple and Yahoo has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, allying with Google in its opposition to the Feb. 3 decision. But a final resolution is years away, given the lengthy appellate process.