Is Microsoft The Biggest Big Brother Of Them All?

    July 14, 2013
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

Microsoft made headlines yesterday when its CEO, Steve Ballmer, announced a massive restructuring of the company. His vision is to have Microsoft provide everything for your life through a number of devices – including phones, TVs, computers and tablets.

It’s a marvelous idea, and one that has the potential to put Microsoft back on top. It’s also a terrifying idea in the context of recent revelations regarding the company’s reported willingness to work closely with the NSA by handing over private communications. Microsoft wants customers to live in their world, but is their world safe from the prying eyes of the NSA and FBI?

Are you worried about Microsoft’s reported involvement with the NSA? Would you trust your data with the company? Let us know in the comments.

In a report published by The Guardian on Thursday, the publication reveals that leaked documents from Edward Snowden reveal a massive collaboration between Microsoft and the NSA/FBI. It’s not the usual kind of collaboration between tech companies and the feds where both work together to improve infrastructure security. Instead, the leaked documents claim that Microsoft worked with the NSA to provide it direct access to its services, including Skype, while helping its agents to bypass encryption.

Here’s everything that Microsoft and the NSA are reportedly working on, courtesy of The Guardian:

  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
  • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
  • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
  • Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
  • In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
  • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.
  • The Skype revelation is especially interesting as reports emerged in July of last year that Microsoft was allowing government agencies to access Skype calls. The company said the claims were untrue, and that it only worked with law enforcement when it “follows appropriate prodcedures;” but it definitely seems suspect when the reports emerged in the same month that the recently leaked documents say the NSA started to collect more call data.

    In a separate but equally damning report from June, Bloomberg revealed that Microsoft intentionally shares exploits for its products with government agencies. These are the kind of security exploits that hackers use to gain access to your computer, and Microsoft reportedly lets the NSA have their way with these exploits for a bit before fixing them.

    What makes this all the more troubling is that the first PRISM leak paints Microsoft as a company that’s more than willing to work with the government. A leaked slide from early June had a timeline of when each tech company joined the PRISM program. Microsoft is listed as being the first with a join date of September 11, 2007. The next wasn’t until the next year when Yahoo allegedly joined the program in 2008.

    All of the above raises some very pressing questions that Microsoft needs to answer, but unfortunately, it can’t. That’s why the company is fighting back against the government to reveal the extent of its cooperation with the NSA.

    In late June, Microsoft submitted a filing to the secret FISA court requesting that it be allowed to publish aggregate NSA data request numbers. It joined Google in arguing that it had a First Amendment right to do so. It also recognizes that publishing these numbers, even in aggregate form, would help to improve transparency from the company and government. This transparency would apparently set the record straight on Microsoft’s alleged cooperation with the NSA and let the American people know that they aren’t handing over everything.

    In fact, Microsoft said just as much in a statement to The Guardian regarding these latest leaks:

    We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

    Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, 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, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

    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. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.

    The last paragraph in the above statement is the most important. Microsoft says that it would like to discuss the matter in more detail, but the current law slaps them with very strict gag orders that prevents it from doing so. It appears that Microsoft is confident that the American people would be put at ease regarding its cooperation with the NSA if only it was allowed to discuss it.

    It should also be noted that Microsoft’s frustration with the NSA is not exclusive. Many tech companies have come forward to say that they would love to publish more information regarding its cooperation with government. The secrecy that the government enforces does nobody any favors, and in fact, is only driving customers away from services owned by Microsoft, Google and the like. By publishing this information, Microsoft could go from the biggest big brother of them all to a company being forced to comply with court orders that it doesn’t agree with, much like Yahoo.

    Do you think Microsoft is willingly working with the NSA to collect your information? Or is it simply caught in a fight it can’t win? Let us know in the comments.

    • Bill

      I believe Microsoft is the teacher’s pet taking names to give to
      the teacher.

    • https://www.searchen.com John Colascione

      The best way to predict what Microsoft will do next (innovation wise), is to wait for Google to do something. Then, usually about a year or so later, Microsoft will announce their latest and greatest ‘idea’.

    • Name

      Here is a fun exercise for you to do.

      Go out to the internet and download a trial keylogger then install it on your computer. Use your computer for a day as you normally would and then review all the logs and data collected by the keylogger software. You will find that it collects EVERYTHING. Every password, every email, every mouse click, every screen you looked at, every application you open, every account number. In short, it collects your life.

      Now imagine that data in the wrong hands. Where it can be manipulated, analyzed, taken out of context, or outright altered.

      Anyone with that information could destroy you in a day. All they have to do is send some altered information with some real information to the police and you will be arrested for anything. Try proving your innocence in a court of law. It is much harder than you think.

      Think it can’t happen? Crazy vigilantes are setting people up on the internet as we speak … people they don’t even know and who live thousands of miles away. Those vigilantes alter chat conversations, go to the police, and don’t turn over the computers they use to entrap people.

    • Gina

      WILLINGLY and GETTING PAID for it at the same time. With our own tax payers money.

    • http://mobi007.com Terry

      I am not convinced that Microsoft is not already in bed with the NSA.

      Microsoft has been in our homes and life’s for years and what better way is there for Big Brother to monitor us? I am not one of those “conspiracy nuts” by any means but lets face the facts.

      Microsoft is embedded deeply into many of our lives and most of us turn on our Windows device(s) without second thoughts to who is listening…

      • Name

        The reality is that the “conspiracy theory nuts” are proving to be right about many things. Not all things of course, but many.

        It all gets down to this one fundamental question: How safe are you really when the people in power are constantly lying to you?

        It is to the point in this nation where you cannot separate the truth from the lies. During 9/11, building 7 was not hit at all, yet it fell in a controlled demolition manner. Compare the collapse with the thousands of other controlled demolitions that have been done around the world. What happened to building 7 does not happen unless explosives are used. It is unmistakable and undeniable. Explosives that would have taken weeks to set. Yet, it happened in mere hours.

        Something simply wasn’t right about that. Building 7 and the other two buildings were not poorly constructed buildings. They were the best of the best. The ludicrous nature of the entire event is staring the American people right in the eyes, yet America is in a collective denial and we are in a collective denial about what is going on with these spying programs. It isn’t about terrorists. It is about us.

        • John Melchinger, ETR

          We have met the enemy and they are us! The Phoenix Program in Viet Nam continued after Congress outlawed it. Nixon and Kissinger blocked progress negotiating the war’s end so Nixon could get credit for stopping it. ASA, a 14 year service cryptologic agency of NSA, was caught listening in on Americans in the sixties, was caught, but occasionally did more secretly against anti-war activists later. yadda yadda

          When citizens do not rage against the egregious behavior of bureaucracies by voting better and boycotting stores/companies en masse, we are our own enemy. Our greed is fed by our comfort needs. Can you accept a feckless president, congress and judicial bench, or will you vote to replace do-nothing congress, demand accountability of judges, boycott Walmart, Target, Monsanto, AT&T and Verizon, Big Banks, fracking and dangerous pipelines, and give up buying gas hogs to drive, etcetera even though you may be personally a little less comfortable doing so? Freedom must always be earned by each generation or it will be diminished by power mongers until dramatic steps must be taken to earn it back. In the Rule of Law the only law that stands is the Golden Rule: them with the gold makes the law. Wake up America!

    • kevin morley

      Well you all slag Microsoft off here but no mention of Apple , Google, or Yaboo. I have just uninstalled Google Chrome because this morning I was on Bing webmastertools when Norton popped up saying heavy usage by Chrome, I haven’t used Chrome on my laptop for weeks now using IE & Mozilla so what is Chrome(google) up to? I used Chrome on the iphone this morning before I decided to do some work. I looked into the Norton history and it was logged a few times over the past few weeks!

      They’re all int same bed as far as NSA concerned

    • Dennis

      I wouldn’t trust Microsuck to flush my toilet!

      • Dennis

        Ditto for: GOOGLE, Yahoo & Apple

    • http://voidjudgements.net Jeff S.

      Microsoft cannot even adequately mind its own business, what’s it doing minding mine.

    • Ken Lee

      How can a dying business manage my business ?
      The restructuring of Microsoft is the beginning of the end.

    • Mr D

      I am sitting in my suburban home, seeing birds and light vehicles. Enjoying my iThings and personal conveniences. Going here and there as I please. Worshiping as I please. Speaking what is on my mind without fear of retribution. Trying to make an honest dollar for honest work. WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES OUR CONVENIENCES POSSIBLE? We could be somewhere else on this planet where we fear for expressing our thoughts and persecuted for our views and not have a voice and…you know…like in many other parts of the world. If the NSA and Microsoft and Google want to listen to my mundane phone calls, let them. I have nothing to hide. If I am talking to a terrorist I would want them to find me. I live in Boston folks. This stuff is real and, imperfect as it is, folks want to hurt us. Let’s not be to casual but let’s also not be naive. Listen in NSA. I just had a conversation about my recent safe bicycle ride. No bombs. No snipers. No fear…except of the renown Boston pot holes!

      • Voice of Reason

        Yes, and being in Boston, I am sure you saw the police enter your homes like an invading army after the terrorist event. What happens, if in the future, an event happens and the police choose not to leave?

        I also ask you this. Was the Gulf of Tonkin real? For decades people thought it was but then we found out that it wasn’t. Unless you saw the bombers place those bombs with your own two eyes, you don’t truly know what reality is. All you are doing is trusting what you have heard on the TV. As we have seen recently, there has been a lot of lying going on. If you need a refresher on lying, just go out to youtube and pull up a Clapper video. It just may drive the point home for you.

        For now, things are glorious for you. You are seemingly safe. But things change.

        • Mr D

          Unbelievable. We welcomed the police into our home in Watertown. The bad guys were bombing us. The police were trying to protect us. Some friends lost limbs at the Marathon finish line. The bad guys were bombing us. The police were trying to protect us. I lost friends on the plane at “911”. What if’s in the future should definitely be considered and dealt with at the appropriate time but getting bombed in the now is a little more real to me right now. Worry about the future, deal with the present!

          • Voice of Reason

            Again, did you see the “bad guys” set the bombs? Did you see anything for yourself? What have you seen for yourself? Nothing. On 9/11, you saw two planes hit the twin towers. That is it. You have no earthly clue as to who was piloting those planes. You are simply going by what you were told in the media.

            Doesn’t your gut tell you something is wrong?

            Take the pentagon for example. There are no pictures of a plane hitting it. The hole is not big enough to fit a plane. They found only one engine at the attack site and that was not the type of engine used on the attack plane. There are no holes for the indestructible titanium engines. There are eyewitness accounts of people saying they never saw a plane. There wasn’t any plane debris. That is the most secure and important military building in the world. There are missle batteries on top of the pentagon purposely designed to stop an attack like that yet they weren’t utilized. There is an air force base 10 miles down the road thats sole purpose is to protect the pentagon from attack, yet that was not utilized. Expert pilots from around the world have gone on record and said they could not have flown the plane in the manner that was described. Yet, supposedly a bunch of amateurs who took a flight simulation course were able to do so. The official flight path of the plane does not line up with the physical evidence on the ground.

            So much does not make sense.

            At the end of the day, you are going by what select people told you regarding who set the bombs or who flew into the towers. You are putting all your trust in people who have repeatedly lied to you in the past. You serve the honor of your fallen friends more by finding out the truth than just going with the party line.

      • John

        Its just this nonchalant attitude that allows companies to violate our privacy. If I am doing nothing wrong – It’s none of your business.

    • http://chefleez.com Chef LeeZ

      If any one believes your electronic communications and storage anything using the net or phone software is not 100% monitored by a great many mighty powerful agencies should pull their head out from their @ss! There is only one rule: Don’t ever put in print and or on the net or texted or wired or wireless spoken that you don’t want the world to know about!

    • John

      It is fine for companies to sell us their products. However if they wish to monitor our usage of that product. I think we need to encourage a new culture. That is specifically to 1. Ask our permission. and 2. Pay us for the privilege of collecting data about us. Of course the 2nd part is not sustainable for companies. Nevertheless, if our data is so vital. (Digital gold). Then I believe that it is ethical that we should be paid for providing that information. We need to put a price on our privacy or lack of it.

    • Name

      The one thing I know is that since 9/11 nothing has been the same in this country and nothing feels right.

      Many people know there is something wrong going on. They may not know exactly what is wrong, but they know that something IS wrong – kind of like how an animal can sense when a major storm coming.

      One thing is certain, it is not the terrorists taking away our way of life. We are doing it to ourselves.

    • noyb

      Not a single American should be surprised. President Eisenhower warned us all over 50 years ago. And every single thing he warned of has come to pass and then some! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWiIYW_fBfY

    • Brian B

      I’d like to bet the NSA are using Mafia-like stand-over tactics to get their way.
      This stuff seriously needs to be thought out…perhaps stop logging in and out of comment areas and being radical would be a good start. After all, these comments do say a lot about the writer which is all fodder to these animals.

      • John

        Of course I tend to have an alter-ego on the net. I will often not use my real name. I sometimes posess a different character to my real self. I use a good VPN. (I wonder if big brother will ban them one day) My browser uses “Track Me Not” to send search queries to the major search engines. It seems to be working because now and again if I use bing, which is rare, it will ask me to veryfy that I am a real person. I have Ghostery, Disconnect, HPPTS Everywhere, Privacy fix, which seem to do quite a bit of blocking. occasionally they annoy me, but on the whole I have a better experience. And as for email addresses, mailexpire does pretty well if you don’t want to give your real address.

        Article 12 of the United Nations declaration of Human rights states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” I suggest that we also quote that as often as we can. I would also say the “correspondence” includes email.

    • David

      This situation has created not just a US-centric problem but a worldwide problem. These companies want worldwide market domination. Did the US government think about the interests of Amercian businesses before they embarked on this program?

      The so called authorities have completely lost the plot in light of the fact that they should be working for the people. The scariest part about the whole fiasco with the NSA and privacy is that the US has a so called “man-of-the-people” as president and his government has allowed this to happen.

      Anyway, just another reason not to let any one company become dominant. They act for their own greed and interests and cannot be trusted. Did Microsoft, Google or any of the other named companies consult with their shareholders before collaborating with the NSA?

      • Smedley Butler Quote

        America’s Most Decorated Soldier’s Quote on War – Smedley Butler

        “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

    • http://www.trackass.com Darin

      I wonder if the noise of personal freedom and privacy would be so loud if there had been more successful attacks, people want their governments to use information to protect them, but wish to deny access to information because it invades their privacy. if you made public policy and had to decide what information could be accessed to ensure that the public privacy was protected would you close the door on everyones information…..terrorists are people also and early warning signs are normally present in their communications…if the threat lived in your neighbourhood would you still remove the tools to check?

      • http://www.onlinetv.com Randy Penn

        How did that work for Boston Darin?

      • Name

        This is probably what a lot of German people said about the Nazis during WWII.

        Ah, the Nazis are not so bad. All the things they are doing are necessary to keep us safe and strong.

        How do you even know if the attacks they say they have stopped are even real? We have not heard from one terrorist directly. Not one. Use some common sense. Go out into your own community and see the number of high value targets that are left unguarded. If there really was this huge terrorist threat, we would be having attacks every day of the week.

      • Voice of Reason

        The reality is that you have a better chance of being killed by a street gang member than you do a terrorist.

        I can get killed a billion different ways. That doesn’t mean I want to live in a safety bubble. Heck, I can choke on a hamburger – maybe I should just stop eating?

        Stop being so afraid.

    • http://www.onlinetv.com Randy Penn

      Not very funny to read these comments and see how many apologists and scared people who actually think that government will protect you from attacks from the people the government has terrorized. One only has to look at Boston, where known radicals were “supposedly” watched by the government could carry out terror. The best way for our government to stop terrorists is to stop terrorizing.

      • Joao Corte Real

        Na realidade eu acho que o maior terrorismo é feito pelos governos que se preocupam mais em gastar dinheiro em projetos mirabolantes ao invés de devolver ao Povo em benefícios o valor dos impostos pagos. Na realidade o PODER é alienante e toda essa “vigilância da População” é muito mais usada para os poderosos SE PROTEGEREM do que para proteger o POVO.
        Não acredito nem um pouco na honestidade da Microsoft, exatamente porque eles têm poder

    • http://www.onlinetv.com Randy Penn

      Microsoft bought Skype because the government could not get the code key to listen and watch users. Once Microsoft bought it skype was no longer secure.

      At issue is the way these big companies are obscuring the issue of spying by only talking about the FISA (where in the Constitution are secret courts allowed?) arrangements and ignoring the fact that NSA and others have their own ether cables to these company servers. That is why they will claim they do not give that information. It is taken.

      Give the slaves something small so they stop looking at the real crimes.

    • Simon Duncan

      I wouldn’t trust Microsoft as far as I can spit the family car. They are a company without principle.

    • Ace

      Its the whole reasoning that they bought Skype.
      Just so ALL Know . You can not even get an older version of Skype now . Skyoe has been around for many years .
      But we can all illegally download music , just CAN NOT Have older software ?

    • Paul Tracey

      I wouldn’t trust Microsoft. They are a company without principle.

      HERE A big lie

      Your email address will not be published.

      From all Site.

    • Dave Evans

      It is getting difficult to know just who you can trust. I will never trust Microsoft with my data.As for being a whistle blower, that is getting to be a very dodgy thing to do with the governments of the day deciding that you have committed a crime and then setting out to persecute you.

    • http://www.oklahomacityattorneys.org/ Leonard

      It really seems like we are darned if we do and darned if we don’t. They provide such fantastic must have products but it is like they are taking advantage of their customers by letting other companies and governments know all of our business. Just what are we to do?

    • http://N/A Kevin

      I’m betting there is a hidden back door into Windows and the NSA has the key. They are probably able to grab and file, email, or chat they want and can probably even remotely turn on your mic and webcam