Privacy experts have been speculating for months about possible changes to Skype that would make it easier for police surveillance to occur. Skype, which Microsoft bought last year, denies such claims, stating that any changes made to the chat services were to improve user reliability.
The Skype blog has firmly denied that stored messages will be used specifically as a surveillance tactic to make it easier for officials to monitor activity. Skype officials also stated that they will hand over information to officials only when it is necessary:
The move to supernodes was not intended to facilitate greater law enforcement access to our users’ communications. Skype has had a team of Skype employees to respond to legal demands and requests from law enforcement since 2005. While we are focused on building the best possible products and experiences for our users, we also fundamentally believe that making a great product experience also means we must act responsibly and make it safe for everyone to use. Our position has always been that when a law enforcement entity follows the appropriate procedures, we respond where legally required and technically feasible.
The Washington Post points out that many law enforcement officials were unhappy with the encryption of Skype services over the years, which made it difficult to track down communications between suspects, who often used the technology to avoid surveillance.
Critics of the change remain wary of Skype’s intentions after the change in platforms. A Washington Post article highlighted that many critics worry that the precedent set by changes in Skype’s applications, such as the current storage of instant messages for 30 days, will encourage more surveillance. As Lauren Weinstein was quoted in the Post’s piece:
The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy? 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.
The BBC points out that many critics of internet surveillance feel wary about the intentions of Microsoft. The company applied for a US patent for a technology that could silently record Skype-like conversations long before they bought Skype, sparking some speculation that surveillance was always a top priority for the media giant.
Communication and social media technologies have been at the forefront of legal battles in recent years. Earlier this month, a Supreme Court judge ruled that deleted Twitter posts from an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator had to be handed over to authorities, sparking debates about the privacy of Twitter users and deleted web history.
Photo Credit: Skype