Microsoft Reveals Details of Law Enforcement Requests
CREDIT: Public Domain
Out of the hundreds of millions of Microsoft accounts, less than .02 percent — that's about two out of every 10,000 accounts — are the target of law enforcement.
The figure comes from Microsoft's first transparency report showing how many requests it receives from law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Microsoft today (March 22) released the report in an effort to match rival Google that began publishing its own transparency reports three years ago. In its last update, Google added FBI requests, which had previously remained secret. Microsoft also included the FBI's National Security Letters, known as NSLs.
But Microsoft has upped the ante in the transparency game. Microsoft went a step beyond Google and provided a breakout of the number of times it provided not only account information, such as an email address, a person’s name, gender and IP address, but the content of messages as well.
Obtaining content, such as subject and recipient lines from email, browsing history and text transcripts, requires officials to get a warrant from a judge, which shows "probable cause" that the account holder is involved in a crime. Otherwise, a simple court order is all an Internet provider must receive to hand over account records (no content) to investigators.
Microsoft included Hotmail, Outlook.com , SkyDrive, Xbox LIVE, as well as Skype in its report, 2012 Law Enforcement Requests Report.
In 2012, Microsoft received 75,378 requests, of which 1,558 resulted in the disclosure of customer content, primarily to U.S. authorities. "In fact, there were only 14 disclosures of customer content to governments outside the United States," Smith said. "These were to governments in Brazil, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand."
Microsoft showed Skype data separate from its other services. The company received 4,713 requests for Skype customer information, affecting 15,409 accounts. Microsoft said it turned over no Skype message content, but did release details, including call records.
Overall, Microsoft said from the requests it received, it responded with account data in 80 percent of the cases, content in 2 percent and turned over no data (due to no matching account holder or insufficient paperwork) 18 percent of the time.