Fewer Australian govt requests for user data, Microsoft reports

Worldwide, law enforcement requests for user data remained steady

Amid fierce debate about measures to force telcos to retain data users of their services and the sweeping expansion of ASIO's powers to access computer systems, software vendor Microsoft has reported a decline in the number of requests from Australian government agencies seeking to access user data.

The company late last week updated its transparency report, adding data for the period January-June 2014.

Microsoft received 1101 requests for user data in the six months ending June 2014, covering 1223 user accounts. In the six months prior, it received 1281 requests covering 1419 accounts and in the corresponding period ending June 2013 it received 1219 requests covering 1462 accounts.

In the majority of cases in the most recent six month report the company said it disclosed only so-called 'metadata' or 'transactional data' in 77.8 per cent of the cases. It rejected 4.1 per cent of the requests and couldn't find relevant data in 18.1 per cent of cases.

The company indicated it didn't disclose any content to Australian authorities during the period reported on; worldwide, content was disclosed in response to 2.6 per cent of requests.

The report covers all Microsoft services, including Skype.

Worldwide, individual requests from law enforcement agencies dipped to 34494 from 35083 for the six months prior, but requests covered almost the same number of accounts — 58562 compared to 58676 for the six months ending December 2013.

Most of the requests for data came from US organisations, John Frank, Microsoft deputy general counsel and vice-president, legal and corporate affairs, wrote in a blog entry. The US was trailed by Germany, France, Turkey and the UK.

"One of the most significant areas of concern continues to be the lack of clarity about the application of international laws, and the growing interest by some governments to reach across borders to access customer data," Frank wrote.

"As we have argued consistently, we need a new international framework that is grounded in human rights, individual privacy and respect for the laws of other countries. The recently introduced [US] Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act makes an important contribution to this thinking."

Google and Yahoo in their recent transparency reports both reported dips in Australian requests for user data.

Earlier this month Telstra revealed in the 12 months to 30 June 2014, it received close to 85,000 requests from Australian government agencies for customer information.

A transparency report issued by Apple revealed that in the six months to 30 June, requests from Australian law enforcement agencies for data from iCloud and iTunes accounts more than doubled compared to the preceding six month period.

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