John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Microsoft: Your Privacy Is Our Priority. No, Seriously. Stop Laughing!

rotator-privacy-priorityMicrosoft’s cooperation with the National Security Agency isn’t quite as extensive as the latest in the Guardian’s series of reports on U.S. electronic surveillance efforts claims. This according to the software giant itself, which issued a statement Friday denying that it had helped the NSA circumvent its own encryption systems in order to monitor audio, video and email communications across services like Skype and Outlook.

“Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product,” the company said in a response to the Guardian’s report, which detailed its participation in the NSA’s Prism surveillance program. Based on documents provided to the publication by Edward Snowden, that report claimed Microsoft not only gave the NSA pre-encryption stage access to Outlook.com email, but helped it monitor its Skype video chat and SkyDrive cloud storage services, as well.

Microsoft — ironically, still in the midst of a big “Your privacy is our priority” marketing campaign — disputes those allegations, but only to a point. Like other big tech companies mired in this surveillance controversy, it claims it only provides the NSA with access to customer data “in response to legal processes.”

“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,” Microsoft said. “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.”

That’s a principled bit of reassurance, but it’s largely empty without hard information about the legal queries Microsoft fields and how it handles them. And unfortunately for Microsoft, it can’t really comment further, thanks to gag orders and other legal restrictions on such disclosures — though it says it really would like to.

“There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely,” Microsoft said. “That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.”

Below, Microsoft’s statement in full:

In response to an article in the Guardian on July 11, Microsoft issued the following statement:

“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.

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.”

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