Leaked documents reveal Microsoft's collaboration with NSA

By on July 12, 2013, 3:30 PM
microsoft, nsa, leaked, skype, surveillance, encryption, outlook.com, prism

A new set of documents released by Edward Snowden reveal that Microsoft has worked closely with U.S. intelligence agencies to allow for interception of communications and circumvention of corresponding encryption.

The documents obtained by the Guardian detail the deep reach granted to the U.S. government into Microsoft systems.

The highlights of the document include:

  • Efforts Microsoft underwent to assist the NSA in circumventing encryption on the new Outlook.com portal.
  • Pre-encryption access to email on Outlook.com and Hotmail.com email services.
  • Collaboration with the FBI in 2013 to grant the NSA easier access to SkyDrive through the PRISM program.
  • Microsoft’s assistance in helping the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit navigate potential issues with Outlook.com email aliases.
  • The NSA reported that following Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, Skype video call data collection through PRISM tripled.
  • PRISM data is often shared between government agencies, including the FBI and CIA. The document referred to the program as a “team sport.”

The Guardian points out that Microsoft’s recent marketing campaign uses the slogan: “Your privacy is our priority,” and Skype’s privacy policy includes the statement: "Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content."

It appears that Microsoft’s commitment to user privacy only extends as far as it is legally allowed to disclose.

In a statement on its website, Microsoft denied granting direct access to their systems, and reiterated that they only provide data in response to orders concerning specific accounts.

“We only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.”

It’s not clear how accurate the information coming from the leaked documents is, nor do we know if Microsoft can legally disclose the full extent of their cooperation with the government. Microsoft certainly would like us to believe that the NSA’s access is limited.

“To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.”

Much of Silicon Valley is petitioning the government for more transparency. Until they concede, it will remain difficult to fully understand the extent of U.S. government agency reach into private data streams.

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