Search warrants on data are a little different than those on physical property – especially because a lot of data is stored on overseas servers. According to the Justice Department of the United States, Google has stopped challenging warrants from U.S judges that request data from these servers.
A lot of tech companies, including Google, have challenged these warrants in the past after a federal appeals court sided with Microsoft when the issue came up in a drug investigation. As explained by Ars Technica, “Microsoft convinced the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals—which has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont—that US search-and-seizure law does not require compliance with a warrant to turn over e-mail stored on its servers in Ireland.” The government has challenged the court’s decision, but the Supreme Court has not decided whether or not to hear the case.
But courts have not always sided with tech companies. Google has even been found in contempt of court for refusing to comply with a D.C judge’s order to hand over data stored overseas. Perhaps that is why the company has moved away from Microsoft and stopped challenging these kinds of warrants.
It is a tricky issue, and not everyone agrees on the philosophy that data should be turned over from servers abroad. But according to Ars, the government’s theory is that “where the tech sector stores data should not matter. What matters is whether a company can access that data in the US, according to the Justice Department.”