Microsoft Slams US Gov't, NSA Over Security Gag

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft has flatly denied claims that the National Security Agency (NSA) has direct access to Outlook email accounts. The firm is also criticizing the US government for preventing it from discussing NSA snooping with the public.

Last week, several sources claimed Microsoft had given the National Security Agency help bypassing the encryption meant to keep its webmail services, such as, confidential.

The same reports suggested Microsoft had allowed the NSA to intercept Skype conversations and access files stored through the SkyDrive service. (Source:

Microsoft's chief lawyer, Brad Smith, says the reports are untrue. "We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages," Smith said.

Microsoft: Meetings With Government Perfectly Legitimate

According to Smith, the reports appear to be based on the fact that Microsoft had meetings with the government last week. He says the two sides were simply discussing the technical issues involved in following rules that say Microsoft must hand over information when the government makes a valid request.

Smith says the same three principles continues to apply to Microsoft products like Skype and SkyDrive: the NSA does not have direct access to user data; Microsoft only provides information when legally forced to do so; and Microsoft always tells the customer it has handed over the data unless the law says it can't do so.

Smith also notes that when Microsoft changes its services, it may need to make sure it can still comply with the law. At the same time, Microsoft insists it never changes services to make it easier for the government to access user data.

Detailing Security Rules A Free Speech Issue: Microsoft

Smith also revealed that he has asked the US Attorney General for permission to reveal more information about how Microsoft complies with security laws.

At the moment, the company isn't even allowed to say how many government requests it receives.

According to Smith, "The United States has been a role model by guaranteeing a Constitutional right to free speech. We want to exercise that right. With U.S. Government lawyers stopping us from sharing more information with the public, we need the Attorney General to uphold the Constitution." (Source:

Experts have suggested Microsoft may be willing to take this issue as far as the Supreme Court.

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