Microsoft links to NSA revealed

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted,  according to top secret documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, according to top secret documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 07:55

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency (NSA) to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top secret documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper.

Files provided by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and intelligence agencies in the last three years.

They also shed new light on workings of the Prism programme.

The documents show that:

  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal.
  • The agency already had pre-encryption-stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail.
  • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide.
  • Microsoft worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases.
  • After Microsoft bought the web-based phone service Skype in October 2011, the NSA developed a new capability that tripled the number of video conversations being collected through Prism.
  • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the programme as a “team sport”.


Tensions
The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers’ privacy concerns.

Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from the claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft reiterated its argument that it provides customer data “only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”. – (Guardian service)