Microsoft Limited in what it can say about NSA Cooperation

By   /   Jul 17, 2013

According to files provided by Edward Snowden, Silicon Valley (and among them, Microsoft) has worked with American intelligence agencies the past three years to grant intelligence analysts access to private communications in accordance with Prism.

The documents detail Microsoft’s collaboration with the National Security Agency to circumvent encryption and more easily access web chats on and Skype video calls.

Microsoft responded to these leaks, stating that it “does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data.”

Microsoft, however, is limited in what it can say about its cooperation with national security requests and it, and other companies in Silicon Valley, have lobbied the government to “share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information.”

On Microsofts’ TechNet blog, Brad Smith, executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, says “We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the Government is stopping us.”

In April, Microsoft began it’s “Your privacy is our priority” campaign amidst an Xbox One backlash and it’s (at the time) need to be “always online.” It’s recently acquired Skype has a privacy policy stating, “Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content.”

In spite of this, MS has been accused of giving intelligence agencies and analysts a “back door” into its customers’ private data and communications since 2011 in conjunction with Prism.

Smith, however, notes that there are “significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week.”

“We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages. Full stop,” said Smith. “Like all providers of communications services, we are sometimes obligated to comply with lawful demands from governments to turn over content for specific accounts, pursuant to a search warrant or court order.”

As you know, Skype is the power behind Xbox One voice communications. Smith, hoping to clarify what it does and does not do in regards to information sharing, said the following:

As with other services, we only respond to legal government demands, and we only comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. The reporting last week made allegations about a specific change in 2012.

We continue to enhance and evolve the Skype offerings and have made a number of improvements to the technical back-end for Skype, such as the 2012 move to in-house hosting of “supernodes” and the migration of much Skype IM traffic to servers in our data centers.

These changes were not made to facilitate greater government access to audio, video, messaging or other customer data. Looking forward, as Internet-based voice and video communications increase, it is clear that governments will have an interest in using (or establishing) legal powers to secure access to this kind of content to investigate crimes or tackle terrorism.

We therefore assume that all calls, whether over the Internet or by fixed line or mobile phone, will offer similar levels of privacy and security. Even in these circumstances Microsoft remains committed to responding only to valid legal demands for specific user account information.

We will not provide governments with direct or unfettered access to customer data or encryption keys.

Microsoft has not detailed the extent of information it has (if any) shared from Xbox Live or Kinect with the NSA or other intelligence agencies. Smith states that Microsoft has only turned over “fractions of a percent” of customers to government demands of national security.

Source: Microsoft Technet

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