Edward Snowden saga: US and China clash over handling of NSA whistleblower after Microsoft accused of handing over users' data to intelligence services

Fugitive appeals for the help of human rights groups in Russia, as his latest revelations suggest Microsoft lets US government access its customers' data

The US has said it is "very disappointed" with China's handling of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, as the former contractor appeals to human rights groups for a meeting in Russia.

The US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made the surprisingly frank comments at the conclusion of talks in Washington to consolidate US-China relations.

He said: "When we encounter differences or sensitive issues we need to address them directly and in consultation with one another.

"That is why we were very disappointed with how the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong handled the Snowden case, which undermined our efforts to build the trust needed to manage difficult issues."

China brushed off the criticism over its failure to hand over the fugitive, saying that the actions of the government in Hong Kong were "in accordance with law", adding that "its approach is beyond reproach".

Hong Kong, though answering to Beijing on foreign policy matters, is a special administrative region, and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi said: "The central government has always respected the Hong Kong SAR government's handling of cases."

Meanwhile in Russia, Snowden told reporters that he planned to have a meeting with human rights activists to discuss his situation. He is currently stuck in transit at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, and a spokesperson for the airport said: "I can confirm that such a meeting will take place."

Snowden said he would be speaking to reporters after the meeting, which is scheduled for this afternoon.

And it is expected he will comment on allegations revealed in the Guardian that computer giant Microsoft provided US intelligence services with "direct access" to their data, helping them to intercept users' emails and internet phone calls.

According to the newspaper, Snowden provided them with documents which reveal that the FBI and NSA used their information-gathering programme Prism in conjunction with Microsoft's cloud storage service SkyDrive.

Microsoft also helped the Prism programme collect video and audio of conversations conducted via Skype, Microsoft's online chat service, it is claimed.

The company had previously said it did not provide the NSA direct access to users' information. On Thursday, it said that it provides customer data only in response to lawful government requests.

"To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product," the company said in a statement on its website.

Snowden's case has become a sore point both at home and abroad for the US. Douglas Paal, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the revelations "make it impossible for any countries to make concessions to the United States for the time being, because we look like big cyber offenders."

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