In an open letter to Microsoft and developers of Skype, Internet activists, journalists, and generally concerned citizens are demanding transparency from the chat platform. Ever since Microsoft acquired the service in October 2011, unclear changes in infrastructure has brought attention to the fact that it’s quite possible for the government to track, record, or tap into conversations on Skype. From CNET:
Anxiety about how Skype may be used for government eavesdropping heated up after the Microsoft acquisition. According to a July 2012 story on Slate, hackers were alleging that a just-completed change to Skype’s architecture could make “lawful interception” of calls easier to conduct.
In comparison to services like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, web activists feel Skype hasn’t been transparent with exactly who has access to conversations. From the letter:
Skype is a voice, video and chat communications platform with over 600 million users worldwide, effectively making it one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. Many of its users rely on Skype for secure communications—whether they are activists operating in countries governed by authoritarian regimes, journalists communicating with sensitive sources, or users who wish to talk privately in confidence with business associates, family, or friends.
It is unfortunate that these users, and those who advise them on best security practices, work in the face of persistently unclear and confusing statements about the confidentiality of Skype conversations, and in particular the access that governments and other third parties have to Skype user data and communications.
We understand that the transition of ownership to Microsoft, and the corresponding shifts in jurisdiction and management, may have made some questions of lawful access, user data collection, and the degree of security of Skype communications temporarily difficult to authoritatively answer. However, we believe that from the time of the original announcement of a merger in October 2011, and on the eve of Microsoft’s integration of Skype into many of its key software and services, the time has come for Microsoft to publicly document Skype’s security and privacy practices.
In addition to expressing concern, web activists detailed the information they hope to see released from Skype:
- Quantitative data regarding the release of Skype user information to third parties, disaggregated by the country of origin of the request, including the number of requests made by governments, the type of data requested, the proportion of requests with which it complied — and the basis for rejecting those requests it does not comply with.
- Specific details of all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects, and retention policies.
- Skype’s best understanding of what user data third-parties, including network providers or potential malicious attackers, may be able to intercept or retain.
- Documentation regarding the current operational relationship between Skype with TOM Online in China and other third-party licensed users of Skype technology, including Skype’s understanding of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to as a result of using these alternatives.
- Skype’s interpretation of its responsibilities under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), its policies related to the disclosure of call metadata in response to subpoenas and National Security Letters (NSLs), and more generally, the policies and guidelines for employees followed when Skype receives and responds to requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere.