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Government Can Now Snoop on Skype Calls

November 29, 2012

By Mae Kowalke, Call Recording World Contributor

The anonymous Internet grows a little less anonymous every day.

The latest attack on anonymity: YouTube is forcing users to use their real names. But if that’s not scary enough, apparently The Man can now intercept your Skype conversations.

Dennis Chang, president of VoIP-Pal, has just obtained a U.S. patent for “legal intercept” technology that Chang said “would allow government agencies to 'silently record' VoIP communications,” according to Slate.

The system patented by Chang will help authorities identify and monitor suspects merely by accessing their username and subscriber data, as reported in Slate.

This capability would make not only audio conversations but also any other data streams such as pure data and/or video or multimedia data open for interception, according to a Tech 2 article about the patent. That means both voice and chat data, among other data streams.

There are workaround for terrorists, freedom fighters and the paranoid who realize they now can be tracked, however. Tech 2 reports that callers can use false subscriber data and services to mask their IP address to slip law enforcement.

Nonetheless, Chang’s patent could be a win for law enforcement, which has struggled with wiretaps since the rise of voice over IP (VoIP).

Countries such as Ethiopia and Oman have blocked Skype on security grounds, and while the U.S. has not blocked Skype, it has pushed for new powers to force internet chat providers to include secret backdoor access they can use for snooping. The issue of suspects “going dark” by using VoIP is already a problem for the FBI.

India has been voicing similar concerns relating to BlackBerry Messenger, reports Tech 2. The Indian government has been battling BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) for the past four years over its inability to snoop on suspected criminals.

Recently RIM agreed to hand over encryption keys for its secure corporate emails and popular messenger services, in addition to demonstrating a “solution through which messages and mails exchanged between BlackBerry handsets can be intercepted before making them available to Indian security agencies,” according to Tech 2. “The government hopes to halt the misuse of the encrypted services in the country.”

The new patent might clash with a similar patent by Microsoft. Chang’s patent was originally files in 2007, two years before a similar Microsoft patent was filed, reports Slate. It is unclear if Chang, a former IBM employee, plans to leverage the patent for a fight again Microsoft, which has owned Skype since 2011.

It is a bad time to be a terrorist—or someone who gets embarrassed easily and just wants to blend in with the crowd.

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Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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