Privacy on Skype maybe compromised

New surveillance laws being planned in countries from the U.S. to Australia would compel makers of online chat software to build in backdoors for wiretapping. Since launch, Skype has been regarded as private, with its strong encryption and complex peer-to-peer network connections making calls almost impossible to intercept. For some time now, the popular video chat service has resisted taking part in online surveillance. However since Microsoft acquired it though, that may have changed today. And we won’t know about it.

Historically, Skype has been a major obstacle to law enforcement agencies. Skype was considered by experts to be virtually impossible to intercept. Police forces in Germany complained in 2007 that they could not spy on Skype calls and even hired agencies to develop covert Trojans to record suspects’ chats. At around the same time, Skype went on record stating that it could not conduct wiretaps because of its “peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques.”

Recently, however, hackers supposed that Skype made a change to its architecture this spring that could possibly make it easier to allow “lawful interception” of calls. Skype rejected the accusation, saying the restructure was an upgrade and had nothing to do with surveillance. Then when a blogger from the Slate website doggedly requested insight from Skype, he was told by a spokesperson that the company "co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible."

That's a 180-degree turn in stance. When Microsoft took over Skype last year, it was granted a patent for "legal intercept" technology designed to "silently copy communication transmitted via the communication session" of VOIP services. There’s no evidence if that's been implemented, or what else has altered at Skype since the takeover. It does, however, seem that Skype's independence and determination to make a stand against wiretapping is changing—for the worse.

Under Section 3 of the privacy policy, it is written that Skype or its partners “may provide personal data, communications content and traffic data to an appropriate judicial, law enforcement or government authority lawfully requesting such data.” It also states that instant messages sent over Skype will be stored for a maximum 30 days “unless otherwise permitted or required by the law.”

It is perhaps not surprising that, with 663 million registered users reported in 2011, Skype has come under pressure to allow interception of calls. The general concern, though, is not the interception requests themselves but that Skype is not forthcoming about the status of its relationship with law enforcement.

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