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US government 'stopping' Microsoft from discussing NSA scandal

MS denies offering 'unfettered access' to customer data

Microsoft has sternly denied recent allegations that it offered US intelligence agencies unrestricted access to customer data.

The firm's general counsel & exec VP of corporate affairs Brad Smith said in a statement today that the reports contained "significant inaccuracies" in their interpretation of allegedly leaked government documents, but that US government lawyers have denied it permission to address the claims candidly.

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"Today we have asked the Attorney General of the United States to personally take action to permit Microsoft and other companies to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information," said Smith.

"We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the Government is stopping us," he added, saying the government is yet to respond to requests filed June 19 for permission to discuss the "volume of national security requests we have received".

He went on, "There are significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week. We have asked the Government again for permission to discuss the issues raised by these new documents, and our request was denied by government lawyers."

The most recent in a string of related reports claimed that Microsoft has over the past three years allowed the NSA to gain unrestricted access to Outlook emails, Skype video calls and SkyDrive data as part of a secret US government intelligence initiative called Prism.

Smith categorically denies such activity.

"Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer's data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand," he said.

"If a government wants customer data - including for national security purposes - it needs to follow applicable legal process, meaning it must serve us with a court order for content or subpoena for account information.

"We only respond to requests for specific accounts and identifiers. There is no blanket or indiscriminate access to Microsoft's customer data. The aggregate data we have been able to publish shows clearly that only a tiny fraction - fractions of a percent - of our customers have ever been subject to a government demand related to criminal law or national security," he went on.

Such requests, however, have become more frequent in recent times, indicates Smith.

Speaking specifically on its cloud data storage service SkyDrive, Smith revealed, "In 2013 we made changes to our processes to be able to continue to comply with an increasing number of legal demands governments worldwide."

He went on to clarify, "None of these changes provided any government with direct access to SkyDrive. Nor did any of them change the fact that we still require governments to follow legal processes when requesting customer data."

Smith's full post can be read here.

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