The recent fiasco with the NSA and the US government over their involvement with tech companies has got many people up in arms. It was revealed several weeks ago that the US government has been secretly asking companies for customer information in an effort to cut down on terrorist activities, but many tech companies have been speaking out since the whistleblow occurred, including Microsoft.
In a blog post, Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs at Microsoft Brad Smith spoke rather candidly about how the company is dealing with the US government on customer information requests and whether or not Microsoft can get permission to post numbers and figures about government requests in the company's transparency report. Turns out that Microsoft is getting their requests denied.
However, they've taken things to the next level and have contacted the Attorney General of the United States in order to get permission to publicly post government request information. In the past, Microsoft has contacted "government lawyers" about permission to post request information online, and have either been ignored or denied so far.
"The world needs a more open and public discussion of these practices. While the debate should focus on the practices of all governments, it should start with practices in the United States. In part, this is an obvious reflection of the most recent stories in the news. It’s also a reflection of something more timeless. The United States has been a role model by guaranteeing a Constitutional right to free speech. We want to exercise that right. With U.S. Government lawyers stopping us from sharing more information with the public, we need the Attorney General to uphold the Constitution."
In any case, though, Microsoft is at least moving forward and posting the information they do have permission for on how the government is involved in the company's various services. Microsoft says that the government does not have "direct access" to Outlook mail, and they only provide officials with information from specific accounts for specific purposes.
Microsoft also confirms that despite allegations that the company was freely providing direct access to the government, Microsoft denies this by saying that they never "provide or agree to provide any government with direct access to user content or the ability to break our encryption." Microsoft also mentions Skype and SkyDrive as services that also don't allow direct access to government officials.
Indeed, the recent whistleblowing has us worried about what information that companies are simply just handing over to the government, but it's also providing companies the opportunity to step up and be transparent about their privacy practices and dealings with the government. Many big companies have already stepped up to request permission to disclose information to the public, including Google.