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Microsoft releases its first report on data requests by law enforcement agencies around the world

Posted by Maria Xynou at Mar 27, 2013 03:20 PM |
In this post, the Centre for Internet and Society presents Microsoft´s report on law enforcement requests, with a focus on data requested by Indian law enforcement agencies.
Microsoft releases its first report on data requests by law enforcement agencies around the world

Source: Amit Chattopadhyay on flickr


This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


Last week, Microsoft released its first report with data on the number of requests received from law enforcement agencies around the world relating to Microsoft online and cloud services. Microsoft´s newly released 2012 Law Enforcement Requests Report depicts the company's willingness to join the ranks of Google, Twitter and other Web businesses that publish transparency reports.

As of 30 June 2012, 137 million Indians are regular Internet users, many of which use Microsoft services including Skype, Hotmail, Outlook.com, SkyDrive and Xbox Live. Yet, until recently, it was unclear whether Indian law enforcement agencies were requesting data from our Skype calls, emails and other Microsoft services. Thus, Microsoft's release of a report on law enforcement requests is a decisive step in improving transparency in regards to how many requests for data are made by law enforcement agencies and how many requests are granted by companies. Brad Smith, an executive vice president and Microsoft´s general counsel, wrote in his blog post:

“As we continue to move forward, Microsoft is committed to respecting human rights, free expression and individual privacy.”

Microsoft 2012 Law Enforcement Requests

Democratic countries requested the most data during 2012, according to Microsoft´s report. The law enforcement agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Turkey accounted for 69 percent of the 70, 665 requests Microsoft (excluding Skype) received last year. Although India did not join the rank of the countries which made the fewest requests from Microsoft, it did not join the top-five league which accounted for the most requests, despite the country having one of the world´s highest number of Internet users.

Out of the 70,665 requests to Microsoft by law enforcement agencies around the world, only about 0.6 percent of the requests were made by Indian law enforcement agencies. These 418 requests specified 594 accounts and users, which is significantly low in comparison to the top-five and other countries, such as Taiwan, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Brazil and Australia. Indian law enforcement requests accounted for about 0.5 percent of the total 122, 015 accounts and user data that was requested by law enforcement agencies around the world.

Content data is defined by Microsoft as what customers create, communicate and store on or through their services, such as words in an e-mail or photographs and documents stored on SkyDrive or other cloud offerings. Non-content data, on the other hand, refers to basic subscriber information, such as the e-mail address, name, location and IP address captured at the time of registration. According to Microsoft´s 2012 report, the company did not disclose any content data to Indian law enforcement agencies. In fact, only 2.2 percent of requests from law enforcement agencies around the world resulted in the disclosure of content data, 99 percent of which were in response to warrants from courts in the United States. Microsoft may have not disclosed any of our content data, but 370 requests from Indian law enforcement agencies resulted in the disclosure of our non-content data. In other words, 88.5 percent of the requests by India resulted in the disclosure of e-mail addresses, IP addresses, names, locations and other subscriber information.

Out of the 418 requests made to Microsoft by Indian law enforcement agencies, only 4 were rejected (1 percent) and no data was found for 44 requests (10.5 percent). In total, Microsoft rejected the disclosure of 1.2 percent of the requests made by law enforcement agencies around the world, while data was not found for 16.8 percent of the international requests. Thus, the outcome of the data shows that the majority of the requests by Indian law enforcement agencies resulted in the disclosure of non-content data, while very few requests were rejected by Microsoft (excluding Skype). The following table summarizes the requests by Indian law enforcement agencies and their outcome:

Total number of requests

418 (0.6%)

Accounts/Users specified in requests

594 (0.5%)

Disclosure of content

0 (0%)

Disclosure of non-content data

370 (88.5%)

No data found

44 (10.5%)

Requests rejected

4 (1%)

Skype 2012 Law Enforcement Requests

Microsoft acquired Skype towards the end of 2011 and the integration of the two companies advanced considerably over the course of 2012. According to the Microsoft 2012 report, Indian law enforcement agencies made 53 requests for Skype user data and 101 requests for specified accounts on Skype. In other words, out of the total 4,715 requests for Skype user data by law enforcement agencies around the world, the requests by Indian law enforcement accounted for about 0.1 percent. 15,409 international requests were made for specified accounts on Skype, but Indian law enforcement requests only accounted for about 0.6 percent of those.

The report appears to be extremely reassuring, as it states that Skype did not disclose any content data to any law enforcement agencies around the world. That essentially means that, according to the report, that all the content we created and communicated through Skype during 2012 was kept private from law enforcement. Although Microsoft claims to not have disclosed any of our content data, it did disclose non-content data, such as SkypeID, name, email account, billing information and call detail records if a user subscribed to the Skype In/Online service, which connects to a telephone number. However, Microsoft did not report how many requests the company received for non-content data, nor how much data was disclosed and to which countries.

Microsoft reported that data was not found for 47 of India´s law enforcement requests, which represents 88.6 percent of the requests. In total, Microsoft reported that data was not found for about half the requests made by law enforcement agencies on an international level. Out of the 53 requests, Microsoft provided guidance to Indian law enforcement agencies for 10 requests. In particular, such guidance was provided either in response to a rejected request or general questions about the process for obtaining Skype user data. Yet, the amount of rejected requests for Skype user data was not included in the report and the guidance provided remains vague. The following table summarizes the requests by Indian law enforcement agencies for Skype user data and their outcome:

Total of requests

53 (0.1%)

Accounts/identifiers specified in requests

101 (0.6%)

Requests resulting in disclosure of content

0 (0%)

No data found

47 (88.6%)

Provided guidance to law enforcement

10 (18.8%)

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) supports the publication of Microsoft´s 2012 Law Enforcement Requests Report and encourages Microsoft (including Skype) to continue releasing such reports which can provide an insight on how much user data is being shared with law enforcement agencies around the world. In order to ensure that such reports adequately provide transparency, they should be broadened in the future to include more data, such as the amount of non-content data requests disclosed by Skype, the type of guidance provided to law enforcement agencies and the amount of requests rejected by Skype. Nonetheless, this report is a decisive first step in increasing transparency and further, more detailed reports are strongly encouraged.

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