Skype began Cooperating with NSA 5 Years Ago

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In another new revelation about the federal government’s domestic eavesdropping on Americans’ communications, the Internet-based calling service known as Skype began working with the National Security Agency (NSA) five years ago. For many years, Skype bragged that it was so secure that users’ conversations were free from surveillance by governments and others.


But it turns out that officials at Skype started their own secret program, Project Chess, to figure out the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls available to the NSA and law enforcement.


The secret program was reportedly “small, limited to fewer than a dozen people inside Skype, and was developed as the company had sometimes contentious talks with the government over legal issues,” according to James Risen and Nick Wingfield of The New York Times.


Skype was sold by its parent company, eBay, to outside investors in 2009, before Microsoft acquired it for $8.5 billion in October 2011.


Ryan Gallagher at Slate previously delved into Skype surveillance capabilities, but never got a straight answer from officials about what the program could really do.


However, Gallagher says that prior to Microsoft buying Skype, the company “openly boasted that its encryption technology meant that the chat service could not be spied on—which made it a popular tool for journalists and activists concerned about government snooping.”


On July 26, 2012, Skype vice president Mark Gillett assured users that, “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.”


It would appear that Gillett chose his words with unusual care, because the greater access actually took place before the sale to Microsoft.


Today, Microsoft is mum about what Skype could or could not do before the corporation took it over, according to Gallagher.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Web’s Reach Binds N.S.A. and Silicon Valley Leaders (by James Risen and Nick Wingfield, New York Times)

Report: Skype Formed Secret “Project Chess” to Make Chats Available to Government (by Ryan Gallagher, Slate)

NSA Leaks Suggest Microsoft May Have Misled Public Over Skype Eavesdropping (by Ryan Gallagher, Slate)

FBI Wants More Authority to Spy Live on Gmail, Skype, Dropbox and Cloud (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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