Skype, owned now by Microsoft, has entered the attention of Gerard Lommel, Luxembourg’s Data Protection Commissioner, as a result of the documents revealed by Edward Snowden in the PRISM affair.
Gerard Lommel has put Skype under investigation over its possible secret collaboration with NSA, within PRISM spy programme, and the company could face criminal and administrative sanctions, including a ban on passing users’ communications to the US intelligence agency.
If the investigation proves Skype has secretly shared personal data with the NSA, it could also be fined for being in violation of the country’s data-protection laws, as the company has its headquarters in the European country. Luxembourg’s constitution has a strong legislation protecting the right to privacy and establishing that secrecy of correspondence as inviolable, except for cases allowed by the law which says that the surveillance of communications can occur only with judicial approval or by authorization of a tribunal selected by the prime minister.
Skype was founded in Scandinavia in 2003 with the purpose to allow audio, video and chat conversations through an encrypted peer-to-peer internet connection, which was not routed over a centralised network like conventional phone calls. Due to its reputation for privacy and security Skype has started being used by millions of people, including journalists and activists.
According to the NSA leaked documents, in February 2011, Skype got a directive to comply with NSA surveillance signed by the US attorney general. Skype was acquired by Microsoft in May 20111 when it appears that its relationship with the NSA has intensified.
In a letter obtained by the Guardian, sent to Privacy International in September 2012, Skype’s corporate vice president Mark Gillett suggested that group video calls and instant messages could be obtained by law enforcement as they were routed through its central servers and "may be temporarily stored." Yet, Gillett also stated on another occasion that audio and one-to-one video calls made by using Skype’s "full client" on computers were encrypted and did not pass through central servers, which implies that the company could not help authorities intercept them.
"Skype promoted itself as a fantastic tool for secure communications around the world, but quickly caved to government pressure and can no longer be trusted to protect user privacy," said Eric King, head of research at human rights group Privacy International.
Skype told the Guardian that it would not comment upon its compliance with US surveillance or answer to technical questions about how it turns over calls to the authorities. It also stated that the world needed "a more open and public discussion" about the balance between privacy and security while accusing the US government of opposing it.
"Microsoft believes the US constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us," said a spokesperson for Skype referring to an ongoing legal case in which Microsoft is seeking permission to disclose more information about the number of surveillance requests it receives.
Skype under investigation in Luxembourg over link to NSA (11.10.2013)
Skype faces Luxembourg probe over NSA Prism program – report (11.10.2013)