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Microsoft reveals no Skype call data handed to government agencies

30 Sep 2013
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Microsoft has revealed the extent of government requests for data for the first six months of this year, with 66,539 of the company's user accounts requested for scrutiny.

Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, received 3,509 requests worldwide for customer information relating to 10,585 accounts, with 82 percent of those requests resulting in some data being handed over.

However, none of the data released to agencies regarding Skype users related to "content", meaning no information regarding voice calls or chat messages were given away. This is a notable coup for Microsoft, which demonstrates the tough process government requests must go through in order to be successful.

Microsoft as a whole – including Skype – received 37,196 requests for 66,539 individual user accounts. Seventy-seven percent of the requests were accepted, with less than 1,000 overall resulting in content data being handed over. The remaining 28,698 only saw user data such as login IDs, names, IP addresses and physical addresses released.

Requests for enterprise data were far smaller, with just 19 requests made, all in the US. Only five of these resulted in and information being handed over, and in each case but one it was able to notify the customers of the request. It rejected the other requests.

"For all 19 enterprise requests, the legal demands were from law enforcement entities located in the US, and sought data about accounts associated with enterprise customers located in the US. In addition, to date, Microsoft has not disclosed enterprise customer data in response to a government request issued pursuant to national security laws," Microsoft added.

The UK government made 4,404 requests to Microsoft, and no content information was handed over. Authorities in the UK enjoyed a 78.2 percent success rate when asking for user data, with the vast majority of rejections due to a lack of data being available rather than a lack of legal standing.

The first half of 2013 showed no significant change in the amount of data provided when compared with the whole of 2012, in which roughly 75,000 requests for 137,000 accounts were made.

Earlier in September, web firm Yahoo also revealed similar data which showed a 98 percent hit rate for US security agencies, while the UK saw a lower rate of success, with 27 percent of data requests being rejected.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have also released their own similar data in recent months in a push to both increase customer confidence and show transparency and openness within the law. However, all of these web service giants are unhappy with the level of transparency granted to them by the US government, each of them creating petitions in the hope of being able to release more detailed information on the nature of the requests made. The issue is highlighted once more in Microsoft's report, which made it clear that "any national security orders we receive are not included".

Skype releasing no caller data will go some way to vindicate Microsoft, which was one of the companies initially strongly linked with providing backdoor access to its services for government agencies when the PRISM scandal first emerged. Microsoft has always strongly denied the accusations.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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