Skype calls' immunity to police phone tapping threatened

Suspicious phone conversations on Skype could be targeted for tapping as part of a pan-European crackdown.

Suspicious phone conversations on Skype could be targeted for tapping as part of a pan-European crackdown on what law authorities believe is a massive technical loophole in current wiretapping laws, allowing criminals to communicate without fear of being overheard by the police.

The European investigation could also help U.S. law enforcement authorities gain access to Internet calls. The National Security Agency (NSA) is understood to believe that suspected terrorists use Skype to circumvent detection.

While the police can get a court order to tap a suspect's land line and mobile phone, it is currently impossible to get a similar order for Internet calls on both sides of the Atlantic.

Skype insisted that it does cooperate with law enforcement authorities, "where legally and technically possible," the company said in a statement.

"Skype has extensively debriefed Eurojust on our law enforcement program and capabilities," Skype said.

Eurojust, a European Union agency responsible for coordinating judicial investigations across different jurisdictions announced Friday the opening of an investigation involving all 27 countries of the European Union.

"We will bring investigators from all 27 member states together to find a common approach to this problem," said Joannes Thuy, a spokesman for Eurojust based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

The purpose of Eurojust's coordination role is to overcome "the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of Internet telephony systems", Eurojust said.

The main judicial obstacles are the differing approaches to data protection in the various E.U. member states, Thuy said.

The investigation is being headed by Eurojust's Italian representative, Carmen Manfredda.

Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the Internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts, according to Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, the anti-Mafia office in Rome.

Police officers in Milan say organized crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype and other systems of VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) telephony in order to frustrate investigators.

While telecommunications companies are obliged to comply with court orders to monitor calls on land lines and mobile phones, "Skype' refuses to cooperate with the authorities," Thuy said.

In addition to the issue of cooperation, there are technical obstacles to tapping Skype calls. The way calls are set up and carried between computers is proprietary, and the encryption system used is strong. It could be possible to monitor the call on the originating or receiving computer using a specially written program, or perhaps to divert the traffic through a proxy server, but these are all far more difficult than tapping a normal phone. Calls between a PC and a regular telephone via the SkypeIn or SkypeOut service, however, could fall under existing wiretapping regulations and capabilities at the point where they meet the public telephone network.

The pan-European response to the problem may open the door for the U.S. to take similar action, Thuy said.

"We have very good cooperation with the U.S.," he said, pointing out that a U.S. prosecutor, Marylee Warren, is based in The Hague in order to liaise between U.S. and European judicial authorities.

The NSA (National Security Agency) is so concerned by Skype that it is offering hackers large sums of money to break its encryption, according to unsourced reports in the U.S.

Italian investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps, Eurojust said, giving a recent example of customs and tax police in Milan, who overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg drug consignment.

"Investigators are convinced that the interception of telephone calls have become an essential tool of the police, who spend millions of euros each year tracking down crime through wiretaps of land lines and mobile phones," Eurojust said.

The first meeting of Eurojust's 27 national representatives is planned in the coming weeks but precise details of its timing and the location of the meeting remain secret, Thuy said.

"They will exchange information and then we will give advice on how to proceed," he said. Bringing Internet telephony into line with calls on land lines and mobile phones "could be the price we have to pay for our security," he said.

Tags skype

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Paul Meller

IDG News Service

16 Comments

Anonymous

1

Crypto vs surveillance

When they establish a formal mechanism to tap skype calls, criminals will move to private and distributed encrypted channels. Investigators will have to switch back to physical surveillance... after all, the channel from the handset to the ear and the mouth to the handset can't be readily encrypted in software.

Anonymous

2

Stupid

What's stupid about this, is that it won't help. Once skype will be tapped, criminals will just use some other communications software with encrypted traffic. Then what ? Then ISP's should disable any encrypted traffic ?
Just like the music industry, law enforcement should give up on attempting to maintain outdated methods that just won't work on the internet, unless the internet will be completely locked down.
They'll have to figure out other methods to catch criminals/terrorists than by tapping their phone.

Anonymous

3

Ineffectiveness of crime-solving using online telephone taps ...

... "could be the price we have to pay for our liberty".

Anonymous

4

The Price of Liberty

You are absolutely correct. If you cannot stomach the consequences of liberty, you don't deserve to have it.

Anonymous

5

How suspicious

<cite>Suspicious phone conversations on Skype could be targeted for tapping</cite>

How do they know it's suspicious if they aren't already tapping it?

Anonymous

6

Criminals will use other service, but the others will be tapped

First of all if you begin with skype calls tapping, every criminal starts using some other VOIP service - even OpenSource one, so you end up monitoring normal-users, only like you always do and real crimes stay unheard.

You should start working harder to reveal and solve crimes without exploiting privacy of normal users. You can never get plain-text from the entire Internet.

btw. I have never used Skype at home and I know I won't because of this tapping.

Anonymous

7

drugs are bad ok?

<quote>
telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg drug consignment
</quote>
WOWWW! very bad person! what a criminal! he wants to transport 2 kilos of drugs. this is so bad!!! poor italians. they will buy the drug and use it. very very bad! drugs are bad, ok?! and these brutal criminals who want to transport 2 kilos of drugs are very very bad people! the situation in italy is very dangeerous right now! 2 kilos of drugs threaten national security!

Anonymous

8

Maybe authorities don't want to tap criminals?

Did you think that maybe authorities don't care to tap into criminals' calls? maybe they want to tap into calls of political enemies or other people of interest unrelated to any crimes. Criminals can always chit-chat using so many other methods, there are maybe 10 other VOIP services that will encrypt calls and the likes of NSA and other government criminals can never figure out who's saying what. Simple mail server with encrypted emails going back and forth that get decrypted using keys will never enable authorities to snoop on.
So this is just a continuation of attacks on freedom that government has been waging for a long time now.
How about legalize drugs for a solution instead of infringing on people's privacy? How about if people want to put poison in their bodies and after you tried to convince them not to they still want to do it - just let them kill themselves. Such people wouldn't be any benefit to themselves or others anyway. Once you legalize drugs you will get rid of 90% of crime because most crime is drug-related. Criminalization of voluntary behavior will never bring anything good

Anonymous

9

The poor detectives

They actually had to do work before the good days of sitting in the office listening to other people talk until they get something.

Anonymous

10

The Price of liberty

"You are absolutely correct. If you cannot stomach the consequences of liberty, you don't deserve to have it."
I hope whoever said this is not an american but if you are here are some words from our founding fathers that u should take to heart. "He who would give up his liberties for security deserves niether and will recieve none" Benjamin Franklin.

Anonymous

11

What about the listener?

What about the poor guy who has to monitor these phone calls? The legal things they would hear! These innocent bystanders will have to listen to phone sex, arguments and personal stories- all legal and healthy but shouldn't be shared.

Anonymous

12

It's a computer that generates plain-text from a voice call

Assuming NSA will use the same technology to deal with VOIP, like when it's a cell phone, the original call stays archived for about 2 years and the plain-text log generated from it will be processed each time when looking for suspect names, places, date and time or simply keywords. It must be something more huge than Google and when it leaks to public (that is just a matter of time) all you said will be eventually misused against you or sold to some company that resells it to other companies for advertising.

Anonymous

13

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Good site, admin.

Anonymous

14

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Good site, admin.

Anonymous

15

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Anonymous

16

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Good site, admin.

Comments are now closed.

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