Microsoft goes on the Prism offensive, asks U.S. Attorney General to step in

Seeking public discourse and disclosure

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Microsoft is continuing its denial that it willingly helped U.S. intelligence agencies spy on Outlook.com, Hotmail, Skype, and SkyDrive users as part of the government's Prism surveillance program, turning today to its public policy blog to take a stand.

"We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages. Full stop," wrote Microsoft legal affairs head Brad Smith in a post that was strangely not a telegram.

Immediately after including the words "full stop," though, he acknowledged that the company is sometimes obligated to comply with the government's lawful demands to turn over content for specific accounts.

This is only when a warrant and court order are involved, according to Smith, as Microsoft stores data in the United States as well as other countries.

"When we receive such a demand, we review it and, if obligated to we comply."

No encryption keys under the mat

Microsoft also refuted that it helped the FBI circumvent encrypted Outlook.com messages in a "team sport" effort, as last week's report from Edward Snowden-leaked documents had claimed.

"To be clear, we do not provide any government with the ability to break the encryption, nor do we provide the government with the encryption keys," wrote Smith of alleged Prism activities.

"When we are legally obligated to comply with demands, we pull the specified content from our servers where it sits in an unencrypted state, and then we provide it to the government agency."

Holdering back Microsoft

While Microsoft was able to declare that "there is no blanket or indiscriminate access to customer data," the company still wants to shed more light on the situation.

That's why Smith also wrote directly to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to get permission to publicly explain the practices found in the newly leaked documents that refer to Microsoft.

Its first request through official channels was rejected last week, but the company expressed in its post and personal letter to Holder a desire for a world with a 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," wrote Smith.

"[The U.S.] 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," Smith concluded in his post.