SOFTWARE HOUSE and apparently rich source of user data for US intelligence services Microsoft has asked the US Attorney General for permission to reveal its cooperation with the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its PRISM programme.
In a blog post Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and EVP for legal and corporate affairs said that the firm can't talk about national security requests and wants to tell its story.
Smith said that the US government is preventing it from revealing NSA demands, so Microsoft is going directly to the US Attorney General.
"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," he said.
"We believe the US Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the Government is stopping us. For example, Government lawyers have yet to respond to the petition we filed in court on June 19, seeking permission to publish the volume of national security requests we have received. We hope the Attorney General can step in to change this situation."
Microsoft is keen to talk, said Smith, and has published what information it can. It said that reports about its involvement so far contain "inaccuracies", and lists where and when it might share something with the law.
Services like Outlook are not the open book that slides and reports have suggested, Microsoft claimed, and Smith said that Microsoft does not "provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages".
"We are sometimes obligated to comply with lawful demands from governments to turn over content for specific accounts, pursuant to a search warrant or court order. This is true in the United States and other countries where we store data," he added.
"When we receive such a demand, we review it and, if obligated to we comply. We do not provide any government with the technical capability to access user content directly or by itself. Instead, governments must continue to rely on legal process to seek from us specified information about identified accounts."
The same applies to the VoIP, video and chat service Skype and storage service Skydrive, Microsoft said. Smith said that Microsoft doesn't deliver information about its users to anyone, but reviews each request on a case by case basis and only hands it over when it deems fit.
Businesses and organisations that use Microsoft's enterprise email or document services are treated slightly differently, Microsoft said, and if anyone comes knocking on Microsoft's doors for that information they are sent directly to the end user.
"In short, when governments seek information from Microsoft relating to customers, we strive to be principled, limited in what we disclose, and committed to transparency," said Smith.
"The United States has been a role model by guaranteeing a Constitutional right to free speech. We want to exercise that right. With US Government lawyers stopping us from sharing more information with the public, we need the Attorney General to uphold the Constitution." µ
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