The term “amicus curiae” might not mean much to content creators; but it could be the means by which the US Government has its plans to force social media and other internet companies based in Europe to intercept and hand over private and commercial data to its security services thwarted.
The US Government argues that such interception is legal outside the US, but a non-profit organisation called the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) begs to differ. And this December it’s done something about it, filing a document in the US Court for the Southern District of New York.
The move comes in support of Microsoft’s appeal against a ruling that it must comply with a US warrant to hand over private customer email data stored in cloud database in Ireland. CDT is doing to so under the amicus curiae arrangement (Latin for “friend of the court”), which allows uninvolved third parties to supply the court with relevant information to help it in its deliberation on a broad legal principle.
Microsoft and the CDT share a groundswell of opinion among US businesses and manufacturers that in the light of the Snowden revelations about the massive extent of the US’s interception of private and commercial data, more and more businesses and consumers are being deterred from using American cloud service providers.
The main plank in the argument is this: there is no legal foundation for the US Government’s extraordinary claim that it’s free to intercept data beyond its own territorial boundaries. To do so violates fundamental principles of international co-operation: Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLTAs), which the US Government has already entered into, exist to enable it to obtain another country’s assistance in gaining access to information stored within its borders, including evidence in criminal and security matters.
CDT believes that if the US Government succeeds in forcing Microsoft to comply with its warrant, huge swathes of the public will lose trust in US technology companies, especially in Europe, where memories of Nazi abuses have led to stronger privacy laws.
As CDT puts it:
“The ‘extensive accumulation of personal data by the Nazi regime’ is one example of the ‘abuse in recent history of private and personal information’ that has supported European vigilance in protecting personal privacy and resisting state intrusions into private life’.”