Microsoft gave the National Security Agency easy access to encrypted web chats, Skype video calls and messages and Microsoft’s cloud storage service, SkyDrive, according to documents published by the UK Guardian.
Top secret documents provided by former National Security Agency Edward Snowden show that Microsoft enabled the agency to intercept web chats by circumventing Outlook.com’s encryption. In addition, the “agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail,” the Guardian reports.
This means that NSA analysts intercepting messages from Outlook.com did not have to decrypt the messages that might have been encoded to avoid privacy intrusions from eavesdroppers.
Microsoft, named as the first NSA private sector partner to join the PRISM Internet surveillance program in 2007, also worked with the FBI to enable the NSA further access to Microsoft’s cloud storage service, SkyDrive.
Skype, which joined as a PRISM participant several months prior to the company’s acquisition by Microsoft in October 2011, also worked with intelligence agencies in 2012 to provide the video and audio of conversations.
“Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a ‘team sport,'” said the Guardian.
CNET notes that Microsoft’s Transparency report says the company did not “divulge any Skype audio or video content to police in 2012,” but the report only refers to law enforcement and not FISA-related requests.
Critics of the revelations have argued that the classified nature of the information in question makes it difficult for readers to know the full story.
Microsoft — in a statement to the Guardian — defended that notion, as well as its privacy practices, which it has been promoting as part of a marketing campaign launched in April aimed at taking on Google.
Skype has also denied that that its user communications are vulnerable to government eavesdropping, stating that it complies with proper legal requests.
In July 2012 Mark Gillett, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Skype Division, wrote on the company blog that changes made to its architecture were to enable law enforcement surveillance of its users; it would only help law enforcement collect user messages “if legally required and technically feasible.”
In a joint statement to the Guardian, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokesperson for the NSA, defended the legality of the surveillance programs and the U.S. companies at the center of the controversy.
“In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate,” they said.