Following a trend set by Google and Twitter, Microsoft this month finally revealed a report detailing the level and depth of information requested by law enforcement officials worldwide regarding its hundreds of millions of users. The report is the first of its kind from Microsoft.
Five countries – Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and the United States – accounted for the bulk of all requests, roughly 69 percent of 70,665 requests the company received last year. The data Microsoft provided consisted of email addresses, I.P. addresses, sex of users, country of residence, dates and times of data traffic, and more. In some instances, Microsoft refused to provide data and described its reason for the denial.
The report, known as a transparency report, comes on the heels of growing criticism against Microsoft for not previously revealing statistics and other data per law enforcement requests. Still, Microsoft is one of fewer than 10 known private companies that have published the extent of their cooperation with law enforcement officials. In 2010 Google was the first major web business to report the legal information requests. Twitter, LinkedIn, and some other companies followed suit. Others like Apple and Yahoo have not. And while a group of more than 100 Internet activists petitioned Microsoft to disclose the way it reveals data to law enforcement officials, many are now worried about what was released.
There are likely scores of Microsoft users who don’t know if a law enforcement agency is requesting their data. The issue is complicated by ownership and privacy concerns. Does a Microsoft user own his or her digital footprint? And if so, is the information revealed a violation of privacy? In America, most criminal cases require that law enforcement officials obtain a warrant to search someone’s private property. It would not be surprising for constitutional right advocates to denounce the information revealed as a violation of American’s right to privacy. Only time will tell how this story takes shape.