The software and cloud services giant joins Facebook and Google in confronting allegations that PRISM enjoyed deep access to user data, including encrypted communications in Microsoft’s case.
U.S. intelligence agencies had methods of circumventing the security and encryption safeguards placed on popular cloud services from Microsoft, including SkyDrive, Skype and Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), alleged a July 11 report from The Guardian. Microsoft played a key role in facilitating access to user data by cooperating with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), according to the report.
Since NSA contractor Edward Snowden first sparked the PRISM spying controversy, major technology firms including Apple, Google and Facebook have been battling allegations that the U.S. government enjoyed direct access to the servers in their cloud data centers and the user data contained within. In a brief July 11 statement, Microsoft addressed the latest accusations and reiterated the company’s stance on government requests for data.
Microsoft asserts that the company provides customer data only in response to legal processes and that its compliance team thoroughly examines each demand, rejecting those that aren’t valid. “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,” the company stated.
“To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product,” according to Microsoft.
The company also stated that the law prevents it from discussing matters that may clarify the situation.
“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,” read the statement. Microsoft filed a motion on June 19 with the U.S.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking “to report aggregate information about FISA orders and FAA [FISA Amendments Act] directives,” claiming a First Amendment right to disclose such information.
Microsoft’s response mirrors those of other tech titans that stand accused of allowing the government to enjoy what amounts to unrestricted access to user data. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to his company’s own social media platform to shed some light on “outrageous press reports about PRISM.”
In a June 7 Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote that his company “is not and has never been part of any program” to give government direct access to its servers. “We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received,” said Zuckerberg.
Likewise, Google’s top brass sounded off against reports that Google had an open door policy when it came to U.S. intelligence gathering. Google CEO Larry Page and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond stated in a June 7 blog post titled “What the …?” that the company had “not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers.”
They added, “Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers.” Reports suggesting that Google “is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period.”