Big Brother is not listening to your Skype communications.
That's the message from the Microsoft-owned video-conferencing application's developers after press reports earlier this week speculated that system changes and a patented new technology for routing messages through a recording system are intended to comply with federal law enforcement monitoring requirements.
"The enhancements we have been making to our software and infrastructure have been to improve user experience and reliability. Period," wrote Chief Development and Operations Officer Mark Gillett on a company blog.
The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported on July 25 that Skype had "expanded its cooperation with law enforcement authorities to make online chats and other user information available to police...." The paper cited recent changes in the way Skype operates.
It was revealed in May that Skype switched its Voice-over-Internet Protocol network from peer-to-peer client operation, in which each computer acts as either client or server, to Skype's own Linux-based supernode cloud servers.
"Skype, Skype's local partner, or the operator or company facilitating your communication may provide personal data, communications content and/or traffic data to an appropriate judicial, law enforcement or government authority lawfully requesting such information. Skype will provide all reasonable assistance and information to fulfill this request and you hereby consent to such disclosure."
But on Thursday Skype took up the issue head-on, with Gillett blogging that "when a law enforcement entity follows the appropriate procedures, we respond where legally required and technically feasible."
A 1994 federal law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, requires U.S. technology companies to develop a framework for police or other official investigators to quickly access information for surveillance when deemed appropriate by a judge. Passage of the law was fueled by concern that growing digital communication could hamper surveillance of suspected criminals
Gillett said the architecture changes were planned before the company was acquired by Microsoft and intended to "improve reliability of the Skype software and service in December 2010. These nodes have been deployed in Skype's own data centers, within third-party infrastructure such as Amazon's EC2, and most recently within Microsoft's data centers and cloud....The move also provides us with the ability to quickly introduce cool new features that allow for a fuller, richer communications experience in the future."
And taking on the surveillance issue head on, he said: "It has been suggested that Skype made changes in its architecture at the behest of Microsoft in order to provide law enforcement with greater access to our users' communications. False."
Skype is free for basic users but depends on premium accounts, for group conferencing or calls from computers to phones, for its profit. Technology analyst Michael Gartenberg of Gartner Research said Skype acted wisely in rebutting the rumors in order to maintain user confidence.
"It's certainly something they may want to explain more," Gartenberg said. "In an age of privacy concerns on the Internet, actions like this without clarity will often be interpreted to have 'sinister' purposes."
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