Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Microsoft Asks Attorney General to Intervene in Request to Disclose PRISM Info

justice_signMicrosoft has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to personally intervene in its effort to secure permission to release information about how it handles and has responded in the past to requests for customer data from government agencies.

In a letter released by the software giant moments ago, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith argued that the company has a constitutional right to disclose the information, but its request is languishing before several different agencies. It asked Holder, the highest law enforcement official in the country, to cut through the red tape. “In my opinion, these issues are languishing amidst discussions among multiple parts of the Government, the Constitution itself is suffering, and it will take the personal involvement of you or the President to set things right,” Smith wrote. (See the full letter below.)

Microsoft is one of several large tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple, that has been eager to defend its reputation in the wake of disclosures by the leaker Edward Snowden that they have at times cooperated with government’s requests for information on customer accounts. It first filed a motion in the FISA court last month.

A lot of that information has already been disclosed in leaked documents, and that has led to what Microsoft said are misrepresentations that it has been unable to address because of legal requirements, Smith wrote in the letter. “It’s time to face some obvious facts. Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling Government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information, especially when this information is likely to help allay public concerns.”

The release of the letter was accompanied by a corporate blog post in which Smith reiterated a few points about Microsoft’s compliance with government requests.

Among other things, he said the company doesn’t provide any government agency with direct access to emails on its Outlook.com service, previously known as Hotmail. “Like all providers of communications services, we are sometimes obligated to comply with lawful demands from governments to turn over content for specific accounts,” when court-approved warrants are used. “When we receive such a demand, we review it and, if obligated to we comply.” The same rule, he wrote, applies to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service; Skype, its audio and video calling service; and Enterprise Email and Document Storage.

The move follows word from Yahoo that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had approved its request to disclose documents from a 2008 case in which it fought a requirement to participate in the government’s secret PRISM surveillance program.

Microsoft has previously secured permission to disclose a limited amount of data related to the number of requests it has received from law enforcement agencies. Facebook and Apple have also made similar disclosures.

Microsoft Letter to the Attorney General


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work