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Microsoft reveals 37,000 government data requests for first half of 2013

The latest figures from Microsoft are out regarding the number of requests that governments have made for various bits of the company's user data.

The verdict? Just over 37,000 total requests thus far for the first six months of 2013, affecting a total of 66,539 accounts. If that sounds like a lot, it is; however, it also appears to be right on track compared to last year's overall total for 2012: 75,378 requests affecting 137,424 accounts.

As for Microsoft's response, the company maintains that it didn't offer up a single bit of data for roughly one-fifth of the requests made. Around 77 per cent of the requests – or just under 29,000 — got Microsoft to cough up what it refers to as "non-content data." The company doesn't go on to describe exactly what that is, but ZDNet postulates that it's likely just "metadata about the user" related to his or activities with the account, as opposed to specific data from a user's account.

A total of 2.19 per cent of requests — just over 800 or so — resulted in Microsoft coughing up information about the actual data found within users' accounts.And a significant percentage of these requests, 92 per cent in total, were made by law enforcement agencies found within the United States. Microsoft maintains that these figures are pretty much in agreement with what the company saw when disclosing these statistics last year.

Most of the requests Microsoft received, in total, came from five countries: the UK, Turkey, Germany, France and the US.

However, it's important to keep in mind that some governmental requests – specifically, national security orders — are not included in the data that Microsoft is currently reporting. Microsoft did publish the total volume of security orders it received in 2012 as soon as it was given permission to do so a few months ago, but such has not been the case so far for 2013.

"While we believe that had some value in quantifying the overall volume of requests we received, it is clear that the continued lack of transparency makes it very difficult for the community — including the global community — to have an informed debate about the balance between investigating crimes, keeping communities safe, and personal privacy," reads Microsoft's report.

The company is currently involved in a lawsuit in an attempt to receive additional permissions to publish information about the various government orders it receives for user data.

"For example, we believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email. These figures should be published in a form that is distinct from the number of demands that capture only metadata such as the subscriber information associated with a particular email address. We believe it's possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk. And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete," reads a letter posted by Microsoft executive vice president Brad Smith in late August.