Microsoft reveals details of government data requests for the second half of 2013

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Microsoft reveals details of government data requests for the second half of 2013

Following the revelations of NSA activity and the like, it has become common practice for big companies to release information about the requests for data they receive from governmental agencies in the US and around the world. Today Microsoft releases its second Law Enforcement Requests Report for 2013, this time covering the period July to December. Of course, there are great limits placed on what can be published, but the numbers still make for interesting reading.

This is the third time a report about data requests has been released, and it comes with a familiar caveat: “as with prior editions, this report focuses on demands from criminal law enforcement agencies and does not include legal demands under U.S. national security laws.”

While Microsoft and other companies are keen to be transparent — or at least appear to be — about data they are handing over to government and legal agencies, there are still very strict limits on what these reports can reveal.

In the six months the report is concerned with, Microsoft received just over 35,000 requests affecting around 59,000 accounts, and in 79 percent of cases the company had to reveal some data to the agency making the request. For the average user this should have very little impact in terms of privacy, as just over 2 percent of requests resulted in the revelation of actual content.

It should come as no surprise that the US government made more data requests than any other organization in the world, with countries such as the UK, France and Germany making up the bulk of the rest.

Despite the number of data requests involved, the request report can be downloaded in PDF format as document that is just three pages long — two if you discount the title page, and just one if you ignore the final explanatory page as well.

Ultimately, what we are presented with is a fairly meaningless list of statistics. Legally, Microsoft’s hands are tied, but what people are really interested in knowing is precisely which agencies in which countries are asking for what. But although it is hard to determine much from the data that has been made available, it is interesting to note that there has really been very little change in the number of data requests made over the last two years.

Throughout the whole of 2012, there were 70,665 requests for data while, adding together the figure from 2013’s two reports, last year there were 72,279. Yes, a slight increase, but really nothing major.

How do you feel about the restrictions that are imposed on the reporting of data requests? Do you see them as unnecessary censorship, or are they an important part of national and international security?