Microsoft: The FBI Is Spying On Our Customers

Dennis Faas's picture

Two weeks ago Google revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been spying on its customers using National Security Letters that don't even require the approval of a U.S. judge. Now, Microsoft says the FBI is using the same strategy to snoop on its customers.

National Security Letters (NSLs) are written documents issued by the FBI that force companies, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), to hand over various types of information, including credit card details, banking data, and addresses, phone numbers, etc.

NSLs Used to Access Microsoft User Accounts

According to Microsoft, the FBI has spied on its customers by using NSLs to gain access to Hotmail / Outlook, SkyDrive, Xbox Live, Messenger, and Office 365 online accounts.

This marks the first time ever that companies as big as Microsoft and Google have released information about the government's usage of National Security Letters.

"Like others in the industry, we believe it is important for the public to have access to information about law enforcement access to customer data, particularly as customers are increasingly using technology to communicate and store private information," Microsoft said in a recent statement.

Microsoft also revealed how many times NSLs have been used since 2009. Although the company is not allowed to release precise figures, it did reveal number ranges. (Source:

For example, in 2012 Microsoft said it received less than 999 NSLs pertaining to between 1,000 to 1,999 user accounts. That's down from 2011, when the firm received 1,000 to 1,999 NSLs for 3,000 to 3,999 accounts.

Microsoft customers were investigated most during calendar year 2010, when it received 1,000 to 1,999 NSLs pertaining to between 5,000 and 5,999 user accounts.

Judge Declares Letters Unconstitutional

The use of National Security Letters has aroused considerable controversy.

In a recent ruling, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston declared NSLs unconstitutional because the gag orders that accompany them "significantly infringe on speech regarding controversial government powers." (Source:

Illston found that in issuing such stringent gag orders, the government dismisses "public debate" on the subject. (Source:

The Barack Obama administration has 90 days to appeal the ruling.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet