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Here's What Microsoft Sends to Law Enforcement

After being criticized for not revealing what types of information the company turns over to law enforcement, Microsoft has issued a transparency report.

The report shows that in 2012, law-enforcement agencies made a total of 75,378 requests for Microsoft user data. More than 4,700 of those requests were for Skype data, reports Slate.

These requests affected 137,424 user accounts for Microsoft services such as Skype, Hotmail, Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Account, and Office 365. While these numbers may seem high, the rate at which Microsoft divulged user data was relatively low.

In 18% of the cases, no data was revealed at all, according to Microsoft's transparency report. In nearly 80% of cases, only "non-content" data was disclosed. That leaves about 2% of cases in which Microsoft sent a user's actual "content" data to law enforcement.

'Non-Content' Data

What is "non-content" data? Microsoft's report lists about a dozen types of user data related to basic subscriber information such as a user's:

  • Login name;
  • Personal user ID;
  • First and last names;
  • State;
  • ZIP code;
  • Country;
  • Time zone;
  • Registered-from IP;
  • Date of registration;
  • Gender;
  • Age; and
  • Last-login IP.

In addition, "non-content" data may also include a user's IP connection history, an Xbox Gamertag, and credit card or other billing information, reports Microsoft. To turn over this information to law enforcement, however, the company requires an official, document-based request, such as a subpoena.

'Content' Data

"Content" data includes what customers create, communicate, and store on Microsoft services such as the words in an e-mail, photographs, and documents stored on SkyDrive. Microsoft requires a court order or search warrant before it discloses this content to law enforcement.

Typically, to obtain a warrant, law enforcement personnel will sign an affidavit stating the facts as to why probable cause exists to search Microsoft's data. This can include facts that support a reasonable belief that a crime is being commissioned or planned.

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