Has Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) stepped in it? First it was Tim Cook of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) speaking on Capitol Hill about taxation, and now could Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer be called to the Hill to testify about Microsoft's role in the controversial PRISM online data-collection scheme run by the National Security Agency?
The NSA has come under fire this week after it was revealed that it had been collecting information from Verizon Communications Inc (NYSE:VZ) cell phone customers for the last couple of years, and then the story broke overnight that the NSA had been conducting an online surveillance program called PRISM for the past six years involving nine prominent web-based companies - among those were Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG).
The initial reports had the NSA having access to the servers of these nine companies so they could track individuals' web habits and the sites they visit through e-mails, video, audio and photos. Almost immediately each of the firms mentioned came out to give their versions of "we did not know anything about this," as if to say the operation was truly secret and that the NSA somehow got its own access to servers that these companies are entrusted to protect users' information.
However, could a couple of these companies actually have been more complicit than they're trying to make us believe?
We had noted in an earlier post about this story that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) seemed to give comments that were less that unequivocal admonitions of innocence compared to the other companies that spoke out. Microsoft and Google were quoted as saying they did not give out any information that "wasn't legally demanded."
We thought that wording was curious. Turns out, it might have been, as the Washington Post reported in an article that the NSA considered Microsoft a "first partner" in the PRISM program - which seems to indicate that Microsoft could very well have known something about the program, though details as to Microsoft's role are unclear. Could Microsoft have known and been complicit with the access by the NSA?
In the wake of the brewing firestorm over this latest revelation, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) put out a statement to clarify its position on PRISM.