Microsoft has hit back at claims that it provides government security agencies, including the secretive US National Security Agency (NSA), with complete access to its supposedly encrypted data storage systems.

The claims come courtesy of the Guardian, which has been working closely with whistleblower Edward Snowden to publicise documents which he claims show sustained and illegal monitoring by the NSA and other US security agencies, including monitoring of US citizens - something forbidden by the NSA's charter, which permits it only to monitor foreign nationals.

According to the Guardian, documents leaked by Snowden detail back-door access to Microsoft systems granted by the company to the NSA. These systems include Hotmail and Outlook.com email storage servers, which gave the NSA access to unencrypted emails, chat logs and address books for all the company's numerous customers, as well as the Skype voice-over-IP (VoIP) platform and SkyDrive cloud storage service. In all cases, the NSA and its Prism computer network have been claimed to have access to unencrypted data, which is then shared with other agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.)

While Microsoft doesn't deny that it has worked with law enforcement agencies, the company has issued a statement which claims that there are no 'blanket orders' giving government agencies direct access to any Microsoft products or services.

'We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues,' the company's statement reads. 'First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes. Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid.

'Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate. To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.

'Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues,' the company's statement concludes.

With fears over privacy at an all-time high, Snowden's claims via the Guardian could prove damaging for the company - but Microsoft is hardly in a unique position, with similar claims having been levelled against Google, Apple and other technology giants in recent months, all of whom have denied the accusations.

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