Microsoft Skype Surveillance

Skype under investigation for giving spooks users' personal data

By Mark Leiser, Research Fellow

October 13, 2013 | 4 min read

Luxembourg's Information Commissioner is investigating Skype for handing over personal data to the NSA under the auspices of the PRISM porgram.

Do you use Skype to talk with your friends and family around the world? Well, thanks to Edward Snowden’s latest leaks and revelations it appears that the Microsoft-owned company is now under investigation for privacy violations. Luxembourg is investigating Skype for handing over personal details of users to the Intelligence gathering agencies of the US government. The NSA’s PRISM program has been revealed to be gathering three times the amount of video calls that it was collected thanks to Skype’s move from a change in the architecture of the person-to-person communications system. It has been suggested that the company itself has been handing over the encryption keys to the NSA. Although Skype is remaining quiet about the whole affair, that has not stopped Luxembourg’s information commissioner from pressing ahead with his investigation. Under Luxembourg law, citizens have a right to privacy. The right to privacy has been enshrined into law and both Skype and Microsoft could be fined if it turns out that the company was guilty of offences.

NSA listening into your SKYPE calls?

A spokesman from Microsoft claimed the Redmond, Washington tech giant would like to be more forthright with information, but are currently prevented from doing so. “Microsoft believes the US constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us,” a spokesperson said.Skype has a questionable history when it comes to cooperating with snooping agencies. According to the New York Times, it formed Project Chess, previously undisclosed programme that arose after difficult conversations over legal issues surrounding snooping. Anonymous sources claim that the small group was formed to examine the legal and technical issues that prevented spies from gaining access to communications. Skype also discloses in its Terms and Conditions that:“Skype will retain your information for as long as is necessary to: (1) fulfill any of the Purposes (as defined in article 2 of this Privacy Policy) or (2) comply with applicable legislation, regulatory requests and relevant orders from competent courts.”The news, first reported by the Guardian, has brought the ire of privacy advocates. "The only people who lose are users," says Eric King, head of research at human rights group Privacy International. "Skype promoted itself as a fantastic tool for secure communications around the world, but quickly caved to government pressure and can no longer be trusted to protect user privacy."

Skype was said to be cooperating with the NSA

Skype will not comment on the technical processes it uses to hand over intercepted calls to the NSA. The company cites an on-going legal case where Microsoft is seeking permission to disclose more information about the surveillance requests it receives. However, there is American law that underpins the PRISM program that allows the US government to spy on not only suspected terrorists and spies, but “foreign-based political organizations”. The law, which is not meant to cover the interception of American citizens, also grants broad authority for the NSA to make a presumption about users of the anonymity network TOR are not Americans and subject to eaves dropping. A person whose location cannot be identified “will not be treated as a United States person, unless such person can be positively identified as such or the nature or circumstances of the person’s communications give rise to a reasonable belief that such person is a United States person” according to the documents.Microsoft bought Skype for £5.6bn in 2011.

Microsoft Skype Surveillance

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