Originally published August 1 2012
Skype goes Big Brother, allowing police to monitor text chats
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Long sought and used as a communications tool beyond the reach of Big Brother's probing eyes, Skype has recently announced the company plans more cooperation with police, to include sharing of text chats.
While surveillance of the audio and video feeds of the online phone service remains impractical - even when courts issue warrants - that barrier, too, could eventually be dismantled as Skype transforms into one of the globe's premier forms of telecommunication, The Washington Post reported recently.
Nothing, it seems, will get in the way of the Leviathan's ability to see all, know all.
"The changes to online chats, which are written messages conveyed almost instantaneously between users, result in part from technical upgrades to Skype that were instituted to address outages and other stability issues since Microsoft bought the company last year," the Post said. "Officials of the United States and other countries have long pushed to expand their access to newer forms of communications to resolve an issue that the FBI calls the 'going dark' problem."
'Yes, officer - what else can I do for you?'
Once more, it appears, the reason being given for requiring the access is "national security," though the excuse hasn't been lost on Microsoft. An industry official familiar with the tech giant's plans told the Post that the company is approaching the issue with "tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be" regarding, most likely, privacy concerns.
Then again, the source said, Microsoft already has "a long track record of working successfully with law enforcement here and internationally," whatever "successfully" means.
The changes will give police access to credit card numbers and addresses, among other information. That's made cops and government agencies happy, of course, but privacy advocates are understandably cringing - again.
Law enforcement agencies - and most likely those on the federal level - have been whining for years that Skype's encryption technology and other add-ons made it difficult to track pedophiles, drug lords, and terrorists (while also making it more difficult to track the 98.9 percent of users who were not criminals). The Post said authorities would see recommendations on Jihadist Web sites to use Skype to communicate, and would allegedly overhear suspects they were monitoring with traditional means suggest using the online phone service.
The techies knew the truth
For months hackers and some privacy experts had guessed that Microsoft - known to roll over for governments around the world - changed the Skype software architecture to make it easier to monitor users.
Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, even went so far as to recommend that anyone living under an authoritarian regime - such as the one in Syria, which is currently engulfed in a civil war - not use Skype, according to a CNN report.
"Reportedly, Microsoft is re-engineering these supernodes to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor calls by allowing the supernodes to not only make the introduction but to actually route the voice data of the calls as well," adds Tim Verry, from the website ExtremeTech. "In this way, the actual voice data would pass through the monitored servers and the call is no longer secure. It is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack, and it is made all the easier because Microsoft -- who owns Skype and knows the keys used for the service's encryption -- is helping."
So yes, the techies suspected all right. More like they knew already.
"The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?" Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a digital privacy group, told the paper in an interview. "When you make it easy to do, law enforcement is going to want to use it more and more. If you build it, they will come."
Understandably wanting this issue to go away, Skype was slow issuing a statement, the Post noted. When the company finally did, it was akin to a sheepish admission.
"As was true before the Microsoft acquisition, Skype cooperates with law enforcement agencies as is legally required and technically feasible," the statement said.
Whatever makes Skype and Microsoft executives sleep better at night.
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