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The $98.6 Billion E-Mail

Microsoft is fighting a case in federal appeals court that may decide the future of U.S. cloud computing.
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Illustration: Bloomberg; Clouds: Getty Images

Not long ago, if the U.S. Department of Justice wanted information you’d stored electronically, all its agents needed to do was get a court order and seize your computer. Law enforcement doesn’t have it so easy anymore. In the cloud era, if the FBI or investigators from any other government want to get at your e-mail, Skype calls, or transaction records, the requests—or demands—have to go through corporate legal departments, wherever they may be. Archiving companies’ and individuals’ data is big business for the likes of Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon.com, which have invested billions to create immense clouds of servers to keep your information organized, secure, and confidential.

Overseas judgments could chill business. On Oct. 6, for example, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated a data-transfer agreement between the European Union and the U.S. Many big tech companies had taken extra steps to comply with the eventuality, but thousands of businesses were still left confused about the legality of moving information electronically from one continent to the other.