Microsoft leads the way into massive NSA, FBI privacy invasion

One of Microsoft's latest ad campaigns promises "Your Privacy Is Our Priority," but Microsoft led the way for companies to open up their servers and massive data warehouses to NSA and FBI data snooping. Microsoft was the first company to cooperate in the data-gathering program, and information grabbed from Skype is skyrocketing.

The Guardian and the Washington Post first broke the story of the biggest data-gathering campaign in U.S. history, in which the NSA and FBI have apparently been given carte blanche to directly tap into the servers and data of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple.

The government agencies apparently scoop up everything they can, including email, photographs, chats, documents, connection logs, audio, video, and more. They're supposed to only be looking for communications with those overseas. But both the Guardian and Post report that the NSA and FBI aren't particularly concerned when they also grab domestic information. The Guardian succinctly sums up what the government is doing:

"With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users."

Microsoft is at the center of the privacy invasions. It was the first company to cave into the NSA and FBI's demands to give access to its servers, back in December 2007, according to the reports. Only after Microsoft allowed that unfettered access did other companies follow suit, with Yahoo coming onboard in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk following suit in 2009; YouTube joining in 2010; Skype and AOL agreeing in 2011; and Apple joining in 2012. Apparently even more companies are due to participate as well. The Guardian reports, "The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online."

Microsoft-owned Skype has become particularly important for the NSA and FBI. The Guardian says that the communications grabbed by the government from Skype skyrocketed by 248% in a single year, 2012. The Guardian reports that one document says that there was

"exponential growth in Skype reporting; looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype".

It's more than ironic that Microsoft is at the forefront of giving up such massive amounts of data to the NSA and FBI, given that the company has targeted Google with ad campaigns warning people about Google's privacy invasions. And more recently, Microsoft has launched a campaign touting "Your privacy is our priority." One of the ads in the campaign promises:

"The lines between public and private may never be perfect, but at Microsoft your privacy is our priority."

Given the most recent revelations, maybe it's time to put that tag line to bed.

Microsoft issued a not-quite-denial denial to the Guardian's and Post's charges. Computerworld reports that a Microsoft spokeswoman says that the company only gives out customer data to the government when it gets a legal order or subpoena, and "never on a voluntary basis."

The spokeswoman added:

"In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."

That's not quite a denial, because the NSA and FBI campaigns are apparently legal, thanks to frightening privacy-invading laws, such as the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The FISA Amendments act immunizes companies that cooperate voluntarily with U.S. intelligence data-collection operations.

Is Microsoft more guilty than Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, and any other companies cooperating in the data-collection? To a small extent, yes, because it was the first company to give the NSA and FBI the access. But in the end, they're all equally at fault.

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