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Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will once again find itself wrestling with the balance between digital privacy and law enforcement — an uncomfortable yet increasingly common challenge for the justices. They’ll hear an hour of arguments in Microsoft v. United States, a potentially momentous case involving emails that are stored on overseas servers.

The issue: If an American email provider stores your emails on a server that's located in another country, does it have to hand those emails over in response to a warrant from U.S. law enforcement?

What they’re saying: The case hinges on the Stored Communications Act of 1986, in which Congress required law enforcement to get a warrant to search electronically stored communications.

  • The Justice Department argues that Congress clearly intended for companies like Microsoft to “disclose electronic communications within its control, regardless of whether the provider stores those communications in the United States or abroad.”
  • If search warrants don’t cover emails stored overseas, the Justice Department argues, that provides an easy path to get away with crimes including terrorism, child pornography and drug trafficking.

The other side: Microsoft accuses the government of making a policy argument, not a legal one — and those decisions are up to Congress, not the courts.

  • In the meantime, it argues, a ruling in the government’s favor here would open the door to retaliation.
  • “If the U.S. government obtains the power to search and seize foreign citizens’ private communications physically stored in other countries, it will invite other governments to do the same thing,” Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post. “If we ignore other countries’ laws, how can we demand that they respect our laws?”

Between the lines: This is the second big case this term that forces the court to fit modern technology into a legal structure written long ago. The court heard arguments in November in a case about law enforcement’s access to cell-phone location records.

  • It’s not a place the justices are very comfortable. During the cell-phone arguments, they wrestled with the clear limits of the legal precedent before them as well as the need to write their ruling in a way that doesn’t tie a future court’s hands as technology continues to evolve.
  • Expect to see similar hand-wringing this week. Cases that pit privacy against law enforcement can scramble the court’s left-right divide; the application to modern technology can scramble them even more.

Go deeper

Updated 23 mins ago - Economy & Business

Hybrid work now dominates the knowledge economy

llustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, most knowledge workers are in hybrid work arrangements, partly remote and partly in-office, a new survey finds.

By the numbers: 58% said they now work this way, in a survey of around 10,000 knowledge workers from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan, conducted last November by Future Forum, a research group backed by Slack.

Rents hit all-time high

Data: Zumper; Chart: Axios Visuals

The national median price of a one-bedroom rental apartment in January was up 12% year-over-year, to $1,374 — an all-time high, per Zumper, an online apartment rental site.

Why it matters: Inflation is taking a bigger bite out of people's paychecks these days not only in food and gasoline, but also in housing costs.

A pandemic victim: Ethical supply chains

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last decade, global companies have put in place elaborate policies to ensure their suppliers protect worker safety and human rights. They're struggling to comply with those policies in the pandemic.

Driving the news: COVID-era disruptions have caused a spike in noncompliance with health and safety rules, according to new data from Qima, which audits supply chains.