Microsoft publishes first National Security Letter in transparency report

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Source:   —  April 13, 2017, at 2:52 PM

The FBI uses NSLs to secretly get investigative information from tech companies about their customers. The letters don't require judicial approval and are frequently accompanied by gag orders that prevent companies from ever speaking about the valid process, but with the passage of the United States of America Freedom Act in two thousand-fifteenth, the FBI is presently required to periodically review the gag orders. Yahoo, Google, Cloudflare and the Internet Archive have all published NSLs over the latest year.

Microsoft publishes first National Security Letter in transparency report

Microsoft’s biannual transparency report was just released and, love many other major tech companies who’ve been putting out their reports recently, the company has revealed its first National Security Letter.

The FBI uses NSLs to secretly get investigative information from tech companies about their customers. The letters don't require judicial approval and are frequently accompanied by gag orders that prevent companies from ever speaking about the valid process, but with the passage of the United States of America Freedom Act in two thousand-fifteenth, the FBI is presently required to periodically review the gag orders. Yahoo, Google, Cloudflare and the Internet Archive have all published NSLs over the latest year.

Microsoft’s fight to be more transparent about government requests for user data has been brewing for years. In two thousand-fourteenth, the company successfully pressured the FBI into withdrawing a NSL targeting an undertaking customer, and last year it sued the Justice Dept over gag orders pertaining to other types of requests for user data. (Other companies are challenging NSLs too — Cloudflare and CREDO Mobile recently argued against NSL gag orders in the ninth Circuit.)

The NSL published by Microsoft was issued in Jan. two thousand fourteen and targeted a user of its consumer products, the company says.

“Microsoft is the latest in a series of companies able to disclose an NSL due to provisions in the United States of America Freedom Act requiring the FBI to review previously issued non-disclosure orders,” Microsoft director of corporate responsibility Steve Lippman said in a blog post. “The reforms in the United States of America Freedom Act were a positive step forward and we believe reasonable limits on the routine utilize of government secrecy should be adopted more broadly. There are times when secrecy is vital to an investigation, but too frequently secrecy orders are unnecessarily used, or are needlessly indefinite and prevent us from telling customers of intrusions even after investigations are long over.”

Between July and December two thousand sixteen, Microsoft received 25.837 requests for data from law enforcement agencies around the world. The requests targeted 44.876 user accounts; Microsoft provided metadata for 64.33 percent of the requests and and content for 3.66 percent of requests. It rejected 15.54 percent of requests and found number responsive data for the remaining requests. Lippman said that the majority of the requests came from the U. S., United Kingdom, France and Germany. The total no of requests fell slightly in two thousand-sixteenth to 61.409, down from 74.311 in two thousand-fifteenth.

Microsoft also disclosed data about content removal requests from governments and users. China was the most frequent requester for content removal, issuing four hundred eighteen take-down requests. 

Following the passage of the Right To Be Forgotten in the E. U., many individuals in Europe have begun requesting that look for engines scrub their data. U. K. residents were the most frequent requesters, followed by France and Germany — but Microsoft doesn’t honor most of the requests, with acceptance rates hovering around thirty%.

Microsoft tallies requests from revenge porn victims as well, a process it started in 2015. During the six-month reporting period, it received five hundred eighty requests to get down revenge porn and complied with fifty-one percent of them.

So what're we supposed to create of all this data?

“We are hopeful that this data disclosure can better notify all sides in the critically necessary public discussion about how best to strike the balance between the privacy of our customers and the legitimate needs of law enforcement agencies that defend and serve their citizens,” Microsoft says.

Featured Image: StockStudio/Shutterstock

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