MICROSOFT HAS REVEALED that it received more than double the amount of US government surveillance requests in the first half of 2016 than it received in the preceding six-month period.
According to its latest bi-annual transparency report, Microsoft received between 0 and 499 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests from the US government in the second half of 2015, but this number more than doubled in the first half of 2016, with Microsoft receiving between 1,000 and 1,499 FISA requests from January to June 2016.
This is the highest number of data requests it had received since 2011, which was when it began tracking government surveillance orders.
The number of users that the FISA orders related to fell during the same period - from between 17,500 and 17,999 in the last six months of 2015 to between 12,000 and 12,499 in the first six months of 2016.
Meanwhile, Microsoft also released its law enforcement requests report, in which it revealed that during the latter half of 2016 it received a total of 25,837 legal requests for customer information from law enforcement agencies, bringing the total up to 61,409. This is a decrease from 2015 when requests totalled 74,311.
Microsoft said that the majority of the law enforcement demands it received during this period continued to come from a handful of countries: the US, the UK, France and Germany.
For the first time, the Redmond-based software giant also published a national security letter (NSL), a warrantless surveillance order used by the FBI.
In the letter, dated back to 2014, the unnamed FBI worker asks for all subscriber information, limited to name, address, and length of service, for all services provided to or accounts held by the named subscriber. The worker adds that the information sought "is relevant to an authorised investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities".
Steve Lippman, director of corporate responsibility at Microsoft said that the company was able to disclose the content for the first time in this reporting period thanks to reforms in the USA Freedom Act.
However, he said that the company believes that "reasonable limits on the routine use of government secrecy should be adopted more broadly".
"There are times when secrecy is vital to an investigation, but too often secrecy orders are unnecessarily used, or are needlessly indefinite and prevent us from telling customers of intrusions even after investigations are long over.
"That's why we asked a federal court to weigh in on the increasing frequency of these orders. Our hope is this lawsuit will lead to new rules or laws that keep secrecy for times when it is truly essential," he said.
Microsoft filed a suit in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington back in April 2016. In the suit, Microsoft said that it believed the current Electronic Communications Privacy Act had a section which violates two fundamental rights.
The section relates to not having to tell a consumer that the US government has accessed a person's communications, and Microsoft believes this violates the Fourth Amendment, which gives people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the First Amendment, which guarantees a vendor's right to talk to customers about how government action is affecting their data.
Back in 2013, Microsoft and Google sued the US government in a bid to win the right to reveal more information about official requests for user data. µ
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