Microsoft patent application opens door to spying on Skype

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, June 27, 2011 14:34 EDT
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A U.S. patent application filed by Microsoft in 2009 specifically mentions “Skype” and “Skype-like applications” as being likely candidates for software that would give government spies easy, official access to any and all communications, public documents show.

While back doors in software for “legal intercepts” are not uncommon in the age of mass data intercepts conducted by the National Security Agency and carried out by the major telecom providers, it provides an exclamation point to civil libertarians concerned about ongoing mass surveillance programs, and should serve as a reminder that virtually no electronic communications are truly private.

“[T]raditional techniques for silently recording telephone communication may not work correctly with [Voice-over-IP] and other network-based communication technology,” the patent application notes. “As used hereafter, the term VoIP is used to refer to standard VoIP as well as any other form of packet-based communication that may be used to transmit audio over a wireless and/or wired network. For example, VoIP may include audio messages transmitted via gaming systems, instant messaging protocols that transmit audio, Skype and Skype-like applications, meeting software, video conferencing software, and the like.”

Microsoft announced last month that it would purchase Skype for $8.56 billion, leading investors and journalists to speculate that its features would be integrated into a number of Microsoft services. The company was not likely investigating the purchase when it filed the patent application for recording VoIP communications.

In spite of this, Skype likely already has back doors built into its service. The company’s privacy policy says that “in the event of a designated competent authority requesting Skype or Skype’s local partner responsible towards such authority, to retain and provide Personal and/or Traffic Data, or to install wiretapping equipment in order to intercept communications, Skype and/or its local partner will provide all necessary assistance and information to fulfil this request.”

A spokesperson with Microsoft media relations did not respond to a request for comment. Their patent application was available online.

(H/T: Conceivably Tech)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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