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Microsoft helped NSA, FBI spy on users: report

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (via SMH) | July 12, 2013
Microsoft has been collaborating with the National Security Agency for its internet surveillance program PRISM, according to a report.


Accused: Microsoft allegedly helped the NSA and the FBI to spy on its users. Photo: AP

Microsoft has been collaborating with the National Security Agency for its internet surveillance program PRISM, according to a report.

Despite Microsoft's complaints that it can't be more transparent about government requests, the revelations in The Guardian assert that the software company has helped US intelligence agencies intercept web chats and emails on Outlook.com and Hotmail, as well as Skype phone and video conversations. The report comes from more secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Skype started integration within PRISM in November 2010, but apparently, the VoIP service wasn't served with a directive from the attorney general compelling it to comply until February 4, 2011.

"Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system," boasted a document the newspaper has not yet released.

The document reportedly added that video interception has been possible since July 14, 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video," The Guardian reported that the document read. "Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'."

The NSA and even the FBI allegedly receive access to emails and chats on Outlook, which are sent over before encryption.

"For PRISM collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com, emails will be unaffected because PRISM collects this data prior to encryption," read a Microsoft newsletter.

The Redmond, Washington-based company also helped grant the FBI easier access to SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud service, through PRISM.

These revelations further explain how the NSA accesses internet traffic through its far-reaching PRISM program, revealed in early June by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

It's still unclear, on a technical level, how the program actually works, but companies allegedly involved have strongly denied implications of collaborating with the NSA outside of responding to legal requests.

These new documents, however, seem to run contrary to those denials - at least in Microsoft's case. And, moreover, these revelations seem to contradict Microsoft's own claims about protecting its user's privacy. "Your privacy is our priority," reads a company slogan. Skype has made similar claims in the past.

As reported by CNET in 2008, the company - which at the time wasn't owned by Microsoft - has also argued that Skype calls use end-to-end encryption that make wiretapping impossible. This is a dubious claim that has been disputed in recent years, despite Skype's denials.

In March 2012, when Microsoft released its first transparency report, Brad Smith, the company's executive vice president and general counsel, wrote that "Skype produced no content in response to these [law-enforcement] requests."

 

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