from guardian.co.uk: Microsoft
has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users'
communications to be intercepted, including helping the National
Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to
top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
The files provided by Edward Snowden
illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the
intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new
light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA
to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would
be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to
"understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows
users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".
The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration.
All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to
disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the
NSA to meet their customers' privacy
concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance
themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA
documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.
In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products
we aren't absolved from the need to comply with existing or future
lawful demands." The company reiterated its argument that it provides
customer data "only in response to government demands and we only ever
comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers".
In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access" through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA
operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is
not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an
individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans'
communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.
Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA
documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and
insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into
Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in
April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your
privacy is our priority."
states: "Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the
confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications
But internal NSA
newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the
intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.
The latest documents come from the NSA's
Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the
"crown jewel" of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at
US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.
The files show that the NSA
became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on
Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing
the service in July last year.
Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats.
newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft],
working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with
the issue. "These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12
Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.
Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism
collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be
unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."
co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April
2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI –
which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon
Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.
document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer
have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that
many analysts may not have known about".
explained that "this new capability will result in a much more complete
and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the
result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this
tasking and collection solution established."
A separate entry
identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data Intercept
Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an
additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email
aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."
has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with
Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated
663 million global users.
One document boasts that Prism
monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new
capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these
sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the
accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it
Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.
According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism
in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company
was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.
was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and
collection began on 6 February. "Feedback indicated that a collected
Skype call was very clear and the metadata
looked complete," the document stated, praising the co-operation
between NSA teams and the FBI.
"Collaborative teamwork was the key to
the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system."
technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise
many Skype users. "In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users
about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said.
"It's hard to
square Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google."
The information the NSA collects from Prism
is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012
newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the
other two agencies.
The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism,
using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors
[search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".
The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism
collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two
activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"
In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:
have clear principles which guide the response across our entire
company to government demands for customer information for both law
enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments
to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously,
so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.
our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject
them if we believe they aren't valid. Third, we only ever comply with
orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond
to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few
weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly
Finally when we upgrade or update products legal
obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the
ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or
national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish
we were able to discuss more freely. That's why we've argued for
additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate
these important issues.
In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:
articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company's
efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US
operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful
monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National
Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements
to protect civil liberties and privacy.
"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."