WASHINGTON Microsoft has collaborated with the National Security Agency more extensively than it previously acknowledged, providing the spy agency with up-to-date access to its customer data whenever the company changes its encryption and related software technology, according to a new report based on disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Quoting classified internal NSA newsletters obtained from Snowden, the Guardian newspaper reported that Microsoft helped the security agency find ways to circumvent its encryption on its Outlook.com encrypted Web chat function, and that the agency was given what the Guardian described as "pre-encryption stage" access to email on Outlook, including Hotmail email.
The Guardian, which did not release the NSA documents that it quoted, said Microsoft also provided the FBI with access to its SkyDrive service, a cloud storage service with millions of users.
Microsoft, according to the Guardian, also worked with the FBI to study how Outlook allowed users to create email aliases, while Skype, now owned by Microsoft, worked with the government to help it collect both the video and audio of conversations.
It also reported that information collected through the NSA program code-named Prism was shared with both the FBI and the CIA.
Microsoft said in a statement that it provided access to its systems only when required to do so by court orders.
"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," the company said in its statement. "To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product. 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."
Fearing a negative public response to their cooperation, some Silicon Valley companies are beginning to push back openly against the security agency. Yahoo, for example, is now asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that rules on data collection requests by the government, to allow it to make public the record of its 2008 challenge to the constitutionality of the law requiring it to provide its customer data to the agency.