Microsoft collaborated with US intelligence agencies to circumvent the company’s encryption, allowing the National Security Administration to intercept users’ correspondences, according to the the Guardian newspaper.
After the initial revelation of the PRISM surveillance program in early June, Microsoft downplayed its role in government surveillance, as did other Internet companies implicated in the program, such as Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook.
Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee, described the classified PRISM surveillance program to the Guardian and the Washington Post, and has provided documents revealing the surveillance program's inner-workings.
Microsoft began testing encrypting software in July 2012 that would, theoretically, make correspondences such as emails and chats accessible only to the sender and receiver. But, Microsoft gave the NSA access to user accounts at the “pre-encryption” phase leaving the Prism collection program “unaffected,” reads one of the leaked NSA documents, published by the Guardian.
Microsoft also gave government officials access to its cloud storage service, SkyDrive, “without separate authorization,” according to the documents.
Skype had been part of the program for eight months prior to its purchase by Microsoft in May 2011. Secret NSA documents state that the government has also been able to tap into Skype videos, as well as audio. “Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete.”
Skype boasts an estimated 663 million users around the globe.
In response to the Guardian’s article, Microsoft emphasizes that it provides “customer data only in response to legal processes.”
“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,” Microsoft’s statement reads.
The software company’s statement urges a more transparent discussion of government data collection.
Of the nine of companies implicated in the PRISM information-gathering program, Google is the only one to have challenged the government’s gag order on revealing details about security information requests.
Microsoft announced that it received between 6,000 and 7,000 data requests from US law enforcement authorities, though it is not allowed to break out the number of Foreign Information Surveillance Act requests.
“The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence,” according to a joint statement released by Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, a spokeswoman for the NSA.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allows surveillance on US citizens who have had contact with suspected "foreign agents," as well as foreign agents themselves.