Microsoft Fires Off Rebuttal To Latest Leak; Angry Letter To Eric Holder
from the at-this-point,-I'm-pretty-sure-no-one's-telling-the-complete-truth dept
The recent leak detailing Microsoft’s extremely close work with US intelligence agencies seemed to contradict pre-leak statements made by the company concerning responses to data requests. Microsoft claimed it only did the minimum required by law, but the leaked documents portrayed the software giant as working in concert with the NSA and FBI to provide them with pre-encryption access to several services, including Outlook, SkyDrive and Skype.
Microsoft has responded to this leak via a blog post and a letter to Eric Holder. The blog post is a long refutation of every claim made in the leaked documents. Rather than give the agencies direct, pre-encryption access, as was stated in the leak, Microsoft claims it only provides metadata and content as requested — and then only if Microsoft deems the request valid.
Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer’s data. Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand.
If a government wants customer data – including for national security purposes – it needs to follow applicable legal process, meaning it must serve us with a court order for content or subpoena for account information.
We only respond to requests for specific accounts and identifiers. There is no blanket or indiscriminate access to Microsoft’s customer data. The aggregate data we have been able to publish shows clearly that only a tiny fraction – fractions of a percent – of our customers have ever been subject to a government demand related to criminal law or national security.
All of these requests are explicitly reviewed by Microsoft’s compliance team, who ensure the request are valid, reject those that are not, and make sure we only provide the data specified in the order. While we are obligated to comply, we continue to manage the compliance process by keeping track of the orders received, ensuring they are valid, and disclosing only the data covered by the order.
With this across the board denial of the leaked documents’ contents, we’re left with only a few possibilities. Either the document isn’t accurate and Microsoft’s statement is truthful or the statement is false and the document is the truth. Or, somewhere in between, there’s a way both can be accurate (or “least untruthful“), which boils down to subjective definitions of certain words, most notably “access.” Microsoft could have provided near real-time access while still only complying with court orders. Everything stored and turned over to the NSA and FBI was technically “pre-encryption,” in the fact that Microsoft had unencrypted access to the data. As we haven’t actually seen a court order or national security letter directed at Microsoft, it’s tough to say how direct and how close to real time this access is.
Microsoft’s rebuttal doesn’t entirely refute the documents, however. There’s no doubt it worked closely with these agencies to provide the access, content and data they were seeking, even if it was all strictly “by request.” In terms of Skype, Microsoft doesn’t even bother refuting the government had access to audio and video via its Prism connection. All it addresses is the statement that claimed video production had tripled “since a new capability was added” in July of 2012.
The reporting last week made allegations about a specific change in 2012. We continue to enhance and evolve the Skype offerings and have made a number of improvements to the technical back-end for Skype, such as the 2012 move to in-house hosting of “supernodes” and the migration of much Skype IM traffic to servers in our data centers. These changes were not made to facilitate greater government access to audio, video, messaging or other customer data.
These changes may not have been made to “facilitate greater government access,” but that’s not what the document claims. All it says is that this new capability tripled video production. Moving to in-house hosting and migrating traffic to Microsoft data centers could certainly aid in the “production” (read: harvesting) of Skype video calls. Whatever the intent, the end result was the same — easier, faster access to Skpe data and content for intelligence agencies.
This back-and-forth is unlikely to result in establishing definitive guilt or innocence on the part of Microsoft. Either way, it’s of negligible importance. The fact is that intelligence agencies are, by way of court orders and security letters, inserting themselves deeper and deeper into the underlying fabric of online communications, something that stretches much further than Microsoft.
Microsoft itself is hoping to address the larger, more problematic issue of our growing surveillance state. In addition to its blog post, the company sent a rather irate letter to Attorney General Eric Holder [pdf]. It dispenses with most of the usual diplomatic niceties and confronts the government with the damage it’s doing to American citizens and American companies with its surveillance activities.
Since the initial leak of NSA documents, Microsoft has engaged constructively with the Department of Justice, the FBI, and other members of the Intelligence Community on the ground rules governing our ability to address these issues and the leaked documents publicly. We have appreciated the good faith in which the Government has dealt with us during this challenging period. But we’re not making adequate progress. When the Department and FBI denied our requests to share more information, we went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) on June 19 to seek relief. Almost a month later, the Government is still considering its response to our motion.
Last week we requested official permission to publicly explain practices that are the subject of newly-leaked documents that refer to Microsoft and have now been misinterpreted in news stories around the world. This request was rejected. While we understand that various government agencies are trying to reach a decision on these issues, this has been the response for weeks.
This is no surprise to anyone who’s attempted to obtain information or official responses from our intelligence agencies. The standard m.o. is to wait it out while chanting “grave damage to national security.” But what Microsoft adds next serves as a slap in the face to those parties attempting to wait it out.
As I know you appreciate, the Constitution guarantees the fundamental freedom to engage in free expression unless silence is required by a narrowly tailored, compelling Government interest. It’s time to face some obvious facts. Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling Government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information, especially when this information is likely to help allay public concerns.
In other words, “Your secrets aren’t secret anymore. Get over yourselves.”
At this point, only government employees who dutifully ignore what their employer tells them to ignore aren’t aware of these leaked documents and their contents. If our “national security” was suffering “exceptionally grave damage” from these leaks, you’d think at least some of that damage would be noticeable. Instead, what we have is the large scale embarrassment of government officials who are now forced to explain actions that contradict the very principles they claim this country stands for — that they say they stand for. Refusing to allow companies to discuss activities already outed by leaks is simply the most self-serving form of damage control. The threat to officials’ reputations easily exceeds the threat to the security of the American public, and continuing to deny these companies an opportunity to explain their involvement does them, and the public, a disservice.
Filed Under: eric holder, fisa rulings, free speech, nsa, nsa surveillance, skype, surveillance, warrants, wiretapping
Comments on “Microsoft Fires Off Rebuttal To Latest Leak; Angry Letter To Eric Holder”
While there has been a lot of damage to their reputation this letter adds a lot of credit back to Microsoft (tough not enough in my view to regain any trust). The damage is severe to all American companies in fact.
Still, one gotta love how they slap the Govt in the face for their kid’s play over an imaginary secrecy over documents that are pretty much common knowledge for the average Joe.
As they said, Your secrets aren’t secret anymore. Get over yourselves, out of your lethargy and apathy and start fixing the damage.
Still too little too late for me. I used to keep a single virtual machine for running the occasional Windows only application. Now I’m at the point where I will not run anything that isn’t open source (video card drivers being an annoying exception).
Re: Re: Re:
People still buy nvidia hardware?
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It’s still a two horse race. In my experience (involving CAD, GIS, and GPU accelerated processing) Nvidia seems to have fewer hiccups on X than ATI does. As always, your mileage may vary.
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NVIDIA … ever try running anything else with Blender?
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When I was in grad school, the viz researchers had an Open Suse system with 4 workstation class ATI cards that they used for Blender (real-time stereo vision and and as a render farm). They always swore by ATI. I’m a server jockey and a code monkey and Nvidia’s CUDA libraries have a lot more support for offloading processing intensive tasks. I’m not really a gamer or a designer, for me the graphics card is more like a math coprocessor than anything else.
Re: Re: Re:3 Re:
I have found ATI to be nicer, and to do a better job (Faster) than nvidia for everything bar gaming (due to a lot of games being optimised for nvidia hardware).
If you get the chance check out the AMD APP SDK.
Re: Re: Re:
“video card drivers being an annoying exception”
In the Linux world (which I presume is what you use) kernel 3.11, due to come out very soon (it is in rc1 state right now, it should become final in the next few weeks) has a huge update in the open source AMD graphics drivers.
If you have an AMD card, I strongly urge you to try out the new drivers. I personally can’t test it, as I don’t have AMD hardware (I’m stuck with NVIDIA binary blobs), but from some benchmarks I’ve seen, the newly updated driver has performance comparable to the closed source (catalyst) driver.
Linux is coming along nicely. I can see that many pieces are falling into place.
Soon I (we?) will be able to get rid of windows entirely (one can dream, right?).
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Really glad to hear that! I haven’t been keeping up with the kernel development as much as I used to. Like you I’m stuck with Nvidia’s proprietary garbage where even compiling the driver with DKMS enabled is a crapshoot, it’s annoying having to recompile my video driver every time I make a kernel adjustment. Looks like I’m AMD bound on my next hardware refresh!
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Amen, brother, amen. Wine has improved drastically over the years too so we may see the day when Windows is rendered obsolete soon.
Re: Except that...
Microsoft is claiming to have done what no other company has done, to our knowledge – it claims to have kept control of its customers’ data and is keeping the government at arms’ length.
This quote absolutely stinks to high heaven, and is totally unbelievable to me:
This hasn’t worked for Google. It hasn’t worked for Yahoo. Indeed, Yahoo had to fight to let us know that they got forced into this. It hasn’t worked for any company that has resisted this. Only a few companies aren’t in this situation, and that is because they entered into it whole-heartedly.
So why do we accept this current version of Microsoft’s spin-doctoring and think that they are the only company out there whoa re able to resist government spy requests? How did they get the power, or privilege, or moxie to stand up against the police state? I, for one, am not buying it.
Re: Re: Except that...
Deny... deny... deny...
when caught in a lie… How many guilty individuals, when busted say: Yup, ya got me, I did it.
Re: Deny... deny... deny...
So far, most of the guilty have simply remained silent…
Look at the telco’s – barely heard a peep from them.
"This is no surprise to anyone" -- Techdirt's motto.
About 9,760,000 results for “backdoor windows”. Just taking the top, known since 1999:
The real question is why supposedly savvy tech writers give ANY credence at all to Microsoft: a proven monopoly built on shoddy products, is bad enough.
Re: "This is no surprise to anyone" -- Techdirt's motto.
WTF, this is almost a logical train of thought. What happened to the loopy tag line.
Re: Re: "This is no surprise to anyone" -- Techdirt's motto.
And he didn’t mention Google plus he got an insightful vote from me. Strange times…
Re: "This is no surprise to anyone" -- Techdirt's motto.
Who are you?
Re: "This is no surprise to anyone" -- Techdirt's motto.
Probably because, like it or not, Microsoft is still one of the most prolific companies in the space.
“You, Mr. Holder, are a dastardly fellow.” [Insert winking smiley here]
Everybody raise your hands if you believe that Microsoft is just trying to cover its own ass by trying to deflect the leaked document.
Personally, I think that Microsoft is as guilty as the leaked document and that they’re trying to deflect the criticism. As more and more companies are revealed to be involved with the program at the NSA, greater scrutiny is being placed on them by American consumers and greater fallout will come out of it.
Companies, beware, we are holding you accountable. The NSA can’t protect you from our expressed anger.
You would think that these corporations would realize their actions, whether justified and in accordance with the law, would piss off their customers. Even if they’re not doing what it alleged, the fact that what they are doing is secret is enough to piss people off.
What did they think would happen when everyone found out?
It’s not all bad, right? Okay, look at it this way. The companies are manning up, to some extent. They’re actually listening to people and trying to make things better. They realize that their life relies on their customers. They’re putting some effort out there where the US Government isn’t.
The government is turning its back on its people. The companies it dragged into this mess, they aren’t so keen to do that, to be dragged along further. They care about their customers (Well, their wallets, but still). They care enough to stand up and cry foul, To try and save themselves in front of us.
It’s not fair to pin any of these companies as so evil or heartless. We don’t know what happened behind closed doors. This could have been forced upon them and mind you, to have the government come down on you, that’s not something so easily fought back against. I can’t imagine any reason why Microsoft would want to willingly hand over data to the Government. Does it benefit them? It does in the sense that it keeps the Government from wrecking their day, but beyond that, I can’t imagine it’s something they’re happy with, even if it was easy to twist their arm.
The government is acting as a Bully. Some kids are stronger than others. Some kids take it and cry, some kids stand and fight. We can judge the kids that cry, but we have to realize the bully that put them there.
I’m not happy with what Microsoft has done, but I am happy that they’re standing up for their customers at least in some form. They need to save face, and they’re doing what they should have been doing all along. I wont give them all the credit, but I will give them some.
Microsoft essentially finally stood up and took a swing back. It had been on the ground flailing around, and finally it gathered itself enough to stand up and take a swing back. They’re still the little snot nosed kid they’ve always been, but at least they finally took some sort of stance that wasn’t just to bend over and take it.
I imagine it’s been difficult for them. They haven’t been able to defend themselves like they should have been. Regardless if what they’ve done is right or wrong. They’re stuck between a government that wants to silence them and a consumer base that is boiling over with hate. They want to serve their costumers, they want to calm that fire. We’re their money, and they know that. We’re what will break them, and they know that. It’s our opinion that will change how the operate, but it’s the government that isn’t allowing the public’s opinion to have that sway like it should. Companies improve when the backlash of the public comes down on them, but the government is making it hard for them to do that.
So, maybe they are trying to save their ass. This is what the free market is about though, isn’t it? The consumers are talking, they’re speaking out, and Microsoft is listening. I wouldn’t ever want to be in their position. I don’t like how they’ve handled themselves, but still. I see what it is, where they’re at, the rock and a hard place they’ve got themselves into. Can we at least give them that? That even if they’re the kid we hate, we have to give them some credence in this horrible mess that this country has been flung into?
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Maybe. It’s also easy to speculate, though, that this public outrage was accompanied by a very private “please please please don’t release any of the stuff that we’re asking for – leave us our plausible deniability”.
Your house of cards has fallen, please allow us to pick them up and move on now.
In the recesses of MS’ collective brains it must slowly be dawning on someone they need to come clean or they will have more serious near term troubles.
Re: Damage control
Their fear may be that the level of their customer’s trust in their products (specifically Outlook’s communication security) may get recalibrated to the level of their customer’s trust in their government…
Re: Re: Damage control
Level of trust in government – virtually nil if you have an IQ above a potato.
Re: Re: Re: Damage control
Ahh, but what about other governments?
You’ll occasionally hear stories about some foreign government department moving to Linux, then never hear anything about it again. That’s because moving to Linux is mostly used as a bargaining chip when negotiating Microsoft Volume Licenses.
Now it turns out that the NSA can snoop on almost anyone using Windows or other big name Microsoft products. How will China and Russia, among others, deal with the fact that MS is telling the NSA about exploits in their software before patching them?
Some European countries already are stopping schools from using the cloud, or things like Gmail. Unlike the US, Europe has privacy laws.
In the end US businesses are being harmed by all this. Mainly because any country with sense is going to switch to Linux and in house/country operations.
I find it interesting that American companies are only interested in the affects this has on American citizens, its as if they are not interested in trading with the rest of the world.
I don’t think that’s true, not completely. They operate in this country, but these problems affect all their customers, world wide. Their care for their customer(‘)s (wallets) doesn’t stop at our boarders.
The company’s concern is ultimatey to get customers to spend money on their products. If potential customers refuse they go out of business. MS specifically has problems with consumer preceptions about their products (fair or not). But if customers are scared to trust you and your products you are toast. Ultimately businesses rely on trust, the customer has to believe they are providing value and will keep confidential information confidential.
One not about Skype, Put the Supernodes on US soil, and NSA get access to metadata that would otherwise be unavailable to them. That is they could see who was connecting to who in foreign countries, because the connection request hit US controlled fibres, where in the original Skype the connection management would have been outside their reach.
This change made the data available to NSA without having to gain Microsoft’s direct co-operation.
That’s the thing about the internet. You can’t stop people from knowing who you’re talking to. You can only stop them from knowing what you’re saying. Even then, they can probably guess how you’re saying it (Skype, tor, https, etc…). All tor and VPNs do is forward your messages for you.
Of course, if nothing ever hits a US data tap they can’t see it, but as the parent said MS moved all the Supernodes in house.
after the way things have gone and the way the US government has reacted towards Manning and Snowden as well as towards whistle blowers that went before them, i dont trust any of the fuckers and take what they say with a pinch of salt. we’ve seen from statements here and videos taken at senate hearings that one of the biggest liars we have is Holder. he isn’t alone by any stretch of the imagination. all heads of law enforcement agencies are as bad as each other. it has been shown the lengths they will all go to, including out and out lying to Congress (and getting not even a bit of community service as punishment!). none deserve to have the jobs they have/had. none deserve the trust or the gratitude from citizens and all are nothing less than double-standard hypocrites!
Until one of these companies stands up and says “fuck you, your laws are illegal and we aren’t going to comply,” they are all guilty of aiding and abetting the surveillance state no matter how they spin it. Let the government burn your company to the ground to show your consumers how out of control the feds are. They are too worried about their stock prices on Wall St. to do what is right.
If you want to know why more companies aren’t being forthcoming its because companies have seen lucrative profits behind handing over that data on their customers. These companies have been data mining and collecting our information for years and now they are finally getting paid by the U.S. Government to hand those records over.
Companies always choose profits over ethics. It’s the way it’s always been.
MS in Damage Control?
I am unsure that Microsoft has any moral ground to stand on here if the reports are true that they have been feeding Zero Day exploits to the NSA (and others).
they're just as afraid as the rest of us
although MS could go and talk on first amendment grounds and fight the govt in court later, MS is also afraid of what the govt can do to it, both directly and through back door agreements. No, I don’t think MS cares tremendously about the users, but they are currently trying to side with their users and can’t even do that in a strong way.
how much would it cost MS if the IRS decided to do several audits of MS, and perhaps some foreign govts changed their laws in a way that would hurt MS.. Heck, the US made europe ground the plane of a south american president. the USA is a big bully that isn’t afraid of hurting people, and you don’t want to get on its bad side.
I’m surprised they’re (MS) standing up as much as they are.
Re: they're just as afraid as the rest of us
Aren’t you supposed to be against big software and big hardware, bob?
Microsoft is definitely worried about their market share. The rest of the world governments and private users who are using their backdoor OS and services.
It’s a big enough reason for many of their big customers to embrace and adopt open source operating systems.
As a small customer of google, i’m opting out to pay for Google Drive services. Why pay for it when NSA can hold my data for me for free? 🙂
And Microsoft wonders why people are worried about Kinect being always on.
Did Microsoft happen to mention exactly why it chose to become the very first company to join PRISM?!?
Did Microsoft happen to mention exactly when they were planning to tell Skype users that every single word they said, along with pictures of them saying it, were being forwarded in real time to the NSA?!?
Open Source is the only way. As for Microsoft – kill it now & kill it with fire!!
I will never trust anything with a Microsoft Logo on it ever again!
Don't be surprised
With technology being an interwoven part of society, why would anyone expect the government to not monitor internet use, e-mail, video conferences, SMS text messages and web surfing history? Before computers, the government monitored telephones. They still do today, but in different ways.
Microsoft is due credit for proactively tackling the constitutional issues, however it is possible they are doing this not to be “good guys”, but to limit their liability by disclosing what information the government harvests from Microsoft customers.
Don't be surprised
Maybe it’s because of something we call the CONSTITUTION?!? You know, that document that is supposed to keep the government from misbehaving?!?
Microsoft is more obnoxious than raw sewage. Die, Microsoft, die!!!
This is how it gets done.
THIS is how we will get our civil liberties restored, if we can manage to do so: Big, powerful corporations with lots of money demanding that the Government stop stomping on the Constitution because it’s BAD FOR BUSINESS.
A Letter to Microsoft
We received your letter of this past week, and thank you for your version of events. We do truly appreciate your candor.
However, due to some rulings in the past, we’re still partners, and we’ll be sending copies of this letter to the relevant parties.
Hope to be doing further business with you real soon!
China already HAS a national version of Linux – Ubuntu Kylin
That’s in addition to Red Flag Linux:
How to read a press release
Mad Magazine used to occasionally run a feature called, “When They Say… They Mean.” With apologies to the late Bill Gaines I present my interpretation of Microsoft’s non-denial denial.
How to read a press release
That HAS to be the TechDirt Comment Of The Week 🙂 🙂 🙂
Rich Fiscus, You Win The Internet!!!
Two simple questions:
1. If MS where giving full access to the NSA, wouldn’t it be illegal at this point to let it be known?
2. How do we all feel about the idea of the xbox one camera and microphone in our living-room now?
Absolutely. OTOH if any of the allegations in those leaks were false it would be entirely legal to flatly deny them. They chose not to do that across the board.
This is the same tactic I’ve seen many times when companies try to scare a website to retract something they’ve published. I’m sure Mike has experienced this as well. They send you an email implying what you wrote isn’t true but never actually come out and refute a single fact. Instead they provide some sort of alternate story that implies you have the facts wrong.
If a company wants to deny a rumor or an allegation they come out and unequivocally do so. They cite a specific claim and say “that’s not true.” If they dance around the subject instead it means they have decided, for whatever reason, not to deny the allegation. Full stop.
In case I’m not being clear (I do that a lot), here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
I am waiting with bated breath for the day when the NSA controls my refrigerator, microwave and car. I can just feel it now. I cruising down the highway and my car stops after the NSA hit the master stop button. Getting home I find my refrigerator on after being off all day with out my knowledge. Firing up the old Microwave I find that it spits and sputter heating my food halfway. Arriving at the hospital the doctors find that I have acute food posing due to spoiled food improperly heated. Of course hospital instruments have long became an NSA playground. About 3 in the morning the oxygen tent stop working on direct computer command. The stench becomes a little bit unbearable after the cooling system fails on that big box drawer heats up to an unbearable temperature again on direct computer command.
You people and the fully automated house people are nuts. I am keeping my analog control system in my car, refrigerator, and microwave. I am not giving the NSA that degree of control of my life.
America where are you now
When hungry rats are trapped in a cage they eventually start to eat each other. There are some that are more responsible than others and they will be held responsible.