Microsoft helped the U.S. National Security Agency intercept users' communications and unwrap the company's own encryption. That's one of the new revelations about the interaction between American technology companies and the NSA from the Guardian newspaper, which has been publishing revelations from documents provided by Edward Snowden, who worked for an NSA contractor and is currently a fugitive.
In a report published Thursday, the Guardian said the documents show the NSA was helped in circumventing Microsoft's encryption because the agency was concerned that it would not be able to intercept chats conducted on the new Outlook.com. The newspaper said this was not Microsoft's first step toward assisting NSA around the company's encryption, as the agency already had "pre-encryption stage access" to e-mail sent via Outlook.com, including Hotmail.
In 2013, Microsoft worked with the FBI to allow NSA access to the company's SkyDrive cloud storage service, according to the documents. Additionally, Microsoft reportedly helped the FBI's Data Interception Unit address any issues with Outlook.com's feature that allowed users to create e-mail aliases. The NSA's Prism, the documents said, commonly shared its collection information with the FBI and the CIA, a routine activity that was described as a "team sport."
Tripling Skype Capability
Although it's not yet clear if it is related to Microsoft's May 2011 purchase of VoIP communications company Skype, the NSA noted in the documents in July 2012 that it had obtained a new capability for tripling its ability to collect Skype video calls through its recently revealed Prism surveillance program.
Microsoft has issued a statement that its upgrading or updating of products does not absolve itself "from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." It repeated its previous position that it delivers information about its users "only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers," rather than access to broad swatches of bulk information.
However, Microsoft has previously taken the position that it did not know about Prism's existence, and that it did not provide the NSA or other intelligence agencies with special access to users' information.
The extent of the NSA's Prism program is being unveiled layer by layer. The newest report adds to other reports last month that the NSA has claimed it has "direct access" to information about users through a number of major technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
The legal basis for such data searches is based on blanket orders from a post-9/11 secret court that allows such information-gathering without individual warrants if the NSA believes there is a better-than-50-percent chance that the target is not a citizen of the U.S. and is not on U.S. soil. Individual warrants are required if the target is an American citizen. Data collection of a U.S. citizen's communications are permitted without a warrant if the communications involve a target who is a non-citizen and who is outside the country.