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Microsoft sort of explains what sort of user data they give the US government

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 03:09 GMT By Phil Owen

According to documents the famous/infamous Edward Snowden showed The Guardian, Microsoft was said to have handed over all sorts of data from Skype, Outlook and SkyDrive to the National Security Agency’s PRISM program for several years now, and last week the paper detailed how all that works. Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith today challenged those accusations with a blog post trying to explain how they comply with government requests.


The important thing to note, first off, is that Smith claims they have petitioned the government to be able to explain what they do actually do more clearly than he actually does in this blog post, and that they’ve said no. So consider that. The key point he makes over the course of several hundred words is summed up in this quote: “Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand.” The Guardian did not mention Xbox Live, Smith doesn’t either, but presumably that quote covers it. Nonetheless, you can read his whole statement below if you want all the gory details.

Today we have asked the Attorney General of the United States to personally take action to permit Microsoft and other companies to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information. We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the Government is stopping us. For example, Government lawyers have yet to respond to the petition we filed in court on June 19, seeking permission to publish the volume of national security requests we have received. We hope the Attorney General can step in to change this situation.

Until that happens, we want to share as much information as we currently can. There are significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week. We have asked the Government again for permission to discuss the issues raised by these new documents, and our request was denied by government lawyers. In the meantime, we have summarized below the information that we are in a position to share, in response to the allegations in the reporting:

-Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail): We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages. Full stop. 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. This is true in the United States and other countries where we store data. When we receive such a demand, we review it and, if obligated to we comply. We do not provide any government with the technical capability to access user content directly or by itself. Instead, governments must continue to rely on legal process to seek from us specified information about identified accounts.

Not surprisingly, we remain subject to these types of legal obligations when we update our products and even when we strengthen encryption and security measures to better protect content as it travels across the Web. Recent leaked government documents have focused on the addition of HTTPS encryption to Outlook.com instant messaging, which is designed to make this content more secure as it travels across the Internet. To be clear, we do not provide any government with the ability to break the encryption, nor do we provide the government with the encryption keys. When we are legally obligated to comply with demands, we pull the specified content from our servers where it sits in an unencrypted state, and then we provide it to the government agency.

Cutting through the technical details, all of the information in the recent leaked government documents adds up to two things. First, while we did discuss legal compliance requirements with the government as reported last week, in none of these discussions did Microsoft provide or agree to provide any government with direct access to user content or the ability to break our encryption. Second, these discussions were instead about how Microsoft would meet its continuing obligation to comply with the law by providing specific information in response to lawful government orders.

-SkyDrive: We respond to legal government demands for data stored in SkyDrive in the same way. All providers of these types of storage services have always been under legal obligations to provide stored content when they receive proper legal demands. In 2013 we made changes to our processes to be able to continue to comply with an increasing number of legal demands governments worldwide. None of these changes provided any government with direct access to SkyDrive. Nor did any of them change the fact that we still require governments to follow legal processes when requesting customer data. The process used for producing SkyDrive files is the same whether it is for a criminal search warrant or in response to a national security order, in the United States or elsewhere.

-Skype Calls: 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.

-Enterprise Email and Document Storage: If we receive a government demand for data held by a business customer, we take steps to redirect the government to the customer directly, and we notify the customer unless we are legally prohibited from doing so. We have never provided any government with customer data from any of our business or government customers for national security purposes. In terms of criminal law enforcement requests, we made clear in our Law Enforcement Requests Report that throughout 2012 we only complied with four requests related to business or government customers. In three instances, we notified the customer of the demand and they asked us to produce the data. In the fourth case, the customer received the demand directly and asked Microsoft to produce the data. We do not provide any government with the ability to break the encryption used between our business customers and their data in the cloud, nor do we provide the government with the encryption keys.

In short, when governments seek information from Microsoft relating to customers, we strive to be principled, limited in what we disclose, and committed to transparency. Put together, all of this adds up to the following across all of our software and services:

-Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand.
If a government wants customer data – including for national security purposes – it needs to follow applicable legal process, meaning it must serve us with a court order for content or subpoena for account information.

-We only respond to requests for specific accounts and identifiers. There is no blanket or indiscriminate access to Microsoft’s customer data. The aggregate data we have been able to publish shows clearly that only a tiny fraction – fractions of a percent – of our customers have ever been subject to a government demand related to criminal law or national security.

All of these requests are explicitly reviewed by Microsoft’s compliance team, who ensure the request are valid, reject those that are not, and make sure we only provide the data specified in the order. While we are obligated to comply, we continue to manage the compliance process by keeping track of the orders received, ensuring they are valid, and disclosing only the data covered by the order.
Microsoft is obligated to comply with the applicable laws that governments around the world – not just the United States – pass, and this includes responding to legal demands for customer data. All of us now live in a world in which companies and government agencies are using big data, and it would be a mistake to assume this somehow is confined to the United States. Agencies likely obtain this information from a variety of sources and in a variety of ways, but if they seek customer data from Microsoft they must follow legal processes.

The world needs a more open and public discussion of these practices. While the debate should focus on the practices of all governments, it should start with practices in the United States. In part, this is an obvious reflection of the most recent stories in the news. It’s also a reflection of something more timeless. The United States has been a role model by guaranteeing a Constitutional right to free speech. We want to exercise that right. With U.S. Government lawyers stopping us from sharing more information with the public, we need the Attorney General to uphold the Constitution.

If we do receive approval to share more information, we’ll publish it immediately.

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15 Comments

  1. Dahak

    Disturbing stuff

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Arcnail

    ‘Sort of’?

    Seems a pretty good run down of what they do. Was a wall of text with just the summary.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. xAKUM3TSUx

    Looks at article: “Hmmm…seems interesting.”

    Looks at paragraphs: “A’int nobody got time fo’ that” lol

    #3 2 years ago
  4. pandulce1

    “Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand.”

    All they have to do is ask and you’ll comply with the request. Besides damage control, what more is there to say? What will Microsoft do when asked to provide kinect data?

    Microsoft couldn’t even give a straight answer about their BS DRM policies, so there’s no way they’ll tell the truth about this.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. noamlol2

    just fucking read it

    microsoft doesn’t give a single fuck about privacy

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Arcnail

    and they would have any choice living in Merica…

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Cobra951

    Even if every word in that article is true, the fallout remains disturbing. In practice, “legal requests” translates to carte blanche from a secret court. The NSA can request any intrusion, and it will get rubberstamped in some shady room. Let’s hope the lawsuit filed by the EFF shines some light on the shenanigans.

    https://www.eff.org/press/releases/unitarian-church-gun-groups-join-eff-sue-nsa-over-illegal-surveillance

    #7 2 years ago
  8. deraj

    “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.”

    So our data is as private as other compromised technologies.. not very reassuring.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. polygem

    #4 + 1

    they even had a HUGE marketing campaign for online privacy/security running recently…at least here in germany. it looks like a bad joke now. a persiflage, like comedy. somehow it´s even funny.

    i hope. i really do hope, people wont let them get away with that. they´re in for the cash. they will sell any info they can. not only to the government but also to advertisers.

    no way i will buy xbox one ever.

    ethics first, business later. otherwise capitalsim will eat itself one day and spit out every single one of us.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Belazur

    DON’T BUY A “XBOX ONE” with its always-connected Kinect Cam and that’s it.
    Problem solved, no cam is “watching” you.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Max Payne

    Is ”TheWolf” their PR ? :D

    #11 2 years ago
  12. TF_PtMaster

    And the other countries? If everything in this text is true, what’s US right to demand data from users from another country, maybe is time for EU to start asking MS some questions.

    I’m getting a ps4 and a xbone, but i’m still worried about my privacy every time i read something with MS and NSA in the same text.

    i think every person in the free world should be grateful to Snowden courage.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. MCTJim

    They said what they give and question stuff they dont want to. They have to comply with most requests..Sony, Apple, Facebook, Verizon, AT&T also have to I am sure.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Samoan Spider

    People seem quite happy to give HUGE amounts of information to Facebook which already gets used by anyone from government to debt collection agencies (~1 Billion peoples info), so to be honest, what the fuck are we complaining about again?

    #14 2 years ago
  15. MCTJim

    @14 its just something for people to claim MS gives out your info and is spying on you.

    #15 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Codemasters has announced its F1 franchise will make its series debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this June with the release of F1 2015. The game was developed using a new engine and contains improved handling and physics for all vehicles and parts attached. This includes: engine, transmission, aerodynamics, fuel tank, force feedback, suspension […]

  • Mortal Kombat X video confirms Liu Kang as playable character

    Liu Kang has been confirmed as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X in the latest video. You’ll also notice Bo’ Rai Cho in there as well. In the Shaolin trailer above you also get a look at Kung Lao and Kung Jin who is new to the series. Apparently, Raiden’s past champions of the […]

  • Short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront shows the Battle of Hoth

    A short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront has been posted by EA on Twitter. Well, that speeder isn't going anywhere. Can someone give us a lift to @SW_Celebration http://t.co/srEVrAA0zl #SWCA https://t.co/4W4LG8myke — EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) March 25, 2015 The teaser shows vehicles which we could be using in the game, but it mainly shows the snowy landscape […]

  • Pillars of Eternity releases today – get all the review scores here

    Pillars of Eternity, which still stands as the second most-funded video game on Kickstarter, finally releases today. It’s also getting some rather positive reviews scores, which we’ve rounded up for you. The isometric, party-based RPG from Obsidian Entertainment was one of the first video game projects to take to Kickstarter, and hit its $1.1 million […]

  • Take an in-depth look at Evolve’s Behemoth monster and four new hunters

    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]

  • Kojima Station show suspended

    In another episode in the the ongoing kerfuffle between Hideo Kojima and Konami, the publisher has suspended the Kojima Station web show. Recent tweets from the newly created Japanese Metal Gear Solid account confirm that Kojima Station will not be broadcast tomorrow, but would not provide a date for the next episode. The Tweets were […]