Microsoft denies it provided US Govt ‘blanket access’ to Outlook and Skype

12 Jul 2013

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Fresh claims that Microsoft collaborated with US intelligence services, including the National Security Agency (NSA), to allow access to its servers and circumvent its encryption have been flatly denied by the company.

In more revelations to come from Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor still holed up in an airport hotel in Moscow, new documents allege to shine a light on how the top secret PRISM programme worked.

According to a report in The Guardian, Microsoft is alleged to have helped the NSA circumvent its encryption to address concerns the NSA had about being unable to intercept web chats on the Outlook.com portal.

It is alleged that the agency had pre-encryption access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail, and that Microsoft worked with the FBI to allow PRISM to gain easier access to SkyDrive.

The report also alleges that nine months after Microsoft acquired Skype for US$8.5bn, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype calls being collected through PRISM.

Microsoft’s response to claims it enabled NSA

Microsoft responded almost immediately with a statement flatly denying the allegations.

“We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues,” the company said. 

“First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes. 

“Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. 

“Third, 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.

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

“Finally, when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law-enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. 

“That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.”

Tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, have also denied co-operation with PRISM in recent weeks and have called on the US government to grant them permission to disclose fully how they interact with intelligence and crime-prevention bodies.

Hacker spook image via Shutterstock

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com