[Microsoft has approached the issue with “tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be,” said an industry official familiar with Microsoft’s plans, who like several people interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The company has “a long track record of working successfully with law enforcement here and internationally,” he added.]
By Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima
|Image courtesy: Google|
Skype, the online phone service long favored by political dissidents, criminals and others eager to communicate beyond the reach of governments, has expanded its cooperation with law enforcement authorities to make online chats and other user information available to police, said industry and government officials familiar with the changes.
Surveillance of the audio and video feeds remains impractical — even when courts issue warrants, say industry officials with direct knowledge of the matter. But that barrier could eventually vanish as Skype becomes one of the world’s most popular forms of telecommunication.
The changes to online chats, which are written messages conveyed almost instantaneously between users, result in part from technical upgrades to Skype that were instituted to address outages and other stability issues since Microsoft bought the company last year. Officials of the
and other countries have long pushed to
expand their access to newer forms of communications to resolve an issue that
the FBI calls the “going dark” problem. United States
Microsoft has approached the issue with “tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be,” said an industry official familiar with Microsoft’s plans, who like several people interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The company has “a long track record of working successfully with law enforcement here and internationally,” he added.
The changes, which give the authorities access to addresses and credit card numbers, have drawn quiet applause in law enforcement circles but hostility from many activists and analysts.
Authorities had for years complained that Skype’s encryption and other features made tracking drug lords, pedophiles and terrorists more difficult. Jihadis recommended the service on online forums. Police listening to traditional wiretaps occasionally would hear wary suspects say to one another, “Hey, let’s talk on Skype.”
Hacker groups and privacy experts have been speculating for months that Skype had changed its architecture to make it easier for governments to monitor, and many blamed Microsoft, which has an elaborate operation for complying with legal government requests in countries around the world.
“The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a digital privacy group. “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.’’
Skype was slow to clarify the situation, issuing a statement recently that said, “As was true before the Microsoft acquisition, Skype cooperates with law enforcement agencies as is legally required and technically feasible.”
But changes allowing police surveillance of online chats had been made since late last year, a knowledgeable industry official said Wednesday.
, such requests require a court order,
though in other nations rules vary. Skype has more than 600 million users, with
some in nearly every nation in the world. Political dissidents relied on it
extensively during the Arab Spring to communicate with journalists, human
rights workers and each other, in part because of its reputation for security. United States
Skype’s resistance to government monitoring, part of the company ethos when European engineers founded it in 2003, resulted from both uncommonly strong encryption and a key technical feature: Skype calls connected computers directly rather than routing data through central servers, as many other Internet-based communication systems do. That makes it more difficult for law enforcement to intercept the call. The authorities long have been able to wiretap Skype calls to traditional phones.
The company created a law-enforcement compliance team not long after eBay bought the company in 2005, putting it squarely under the auspices of
law. The company was later sold to
private investors before Microsoft bought it in May 2011 for $8.5 billion. U.S.
The new ownership had at least an indirect role in the security changes. Skype has endured periodic outages, including a disastrous one in December 2010. Company officials concluded that a more robust system was needed if the company was going to reach its potential.
Industry officials said the resulting push for the creation of so-called “supernodes,” which routed some data through centralized servers, made greater cooperation with law enforcement authorities possible.
The access to personal information and online chats, which are kept in Skype’s systems for 30 days, remains short of what some law enforcement officials have requested.
The FBI, whose officials have complained to Congress about the “going dark” problem, issued a statement Wednesday night saying it couldn’t comment on a particular company or service but that surveillance of conversations “requires review and approval by a court. It is used only in national security matters and to combat the most serious crimes.”
Hackers in recent years have demonstrated that it was possible to penetrate Skype, but it’s not clear how often this happened. Microsoft won a patent in June 2011 for “legal intercept” of Skype and similar Internet-based voice and video systems. It is also possible, experts say, to monitor Skype chats as well as voice and video by hacking into a user’s computer, doing an end run around encryptions.
“If someone wants to compromise a Skype communication, all they have to do is hack the endpoint — the person’s computer or tablet or mobile phone, which is very easy to do,” said Tom Kellermann, vice president of cybersecurity for Trend Micro, a cloud security company.
Some industry officials, however, say Skype loses some competitive edge in the increasingly crowded world of Internet-based communications systems if users no longer see it as more private than rival services.
“This is just making Skype like every other communication service, no better, no worse,” said one industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Skype used to be very special because it really was locked up. Now it’s like Superman without his powers.”
[Shahid Siddiqui, editor of the Urdu-language weekly newspaper Nai Duniya, recently spoke to
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in a rare interview. During the hour long conversation, Mr. Modi defended his actions during the 2002 riots in his state that left hundreds dead, discussed the long court battles that followed and asked why Gujarat is being "targeted" by critics.]
Mr. Modi is considered one of the Bharatiya Janata Party's strongest candidates for prime minister in the upcoming 2014 elections, but the legacy of the Gujarat riots has also made him one of India's most controversial and divisive politicians. Mr. Siddiqui, a former member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, supplied an audio file of the interview to India Ink. The interview was translated from Urdu and excerpted by Raksha Kumar.
There are a lot of questions on the riots for the past 20 years. Those who were burnt in the train in Godhra, their bodies were brought back to Ahmedabad. Why did you decide to do this? Did you not understand the repercussions of this?
I have answered this question in detail to the SIT [Special Investigation Team] and the Supreme Court. No matter whose body it is, it needs to be returned to the families, right? It was not right for everyone to go to Godhra where there was tension. The second thing is that this train was going to Ahmedabad, and the passengers were all going to Ahmebadad. So how do you get the bodies to reach their families?
You could have silently brought it to the hospitals and handed them over.
That is exactly how it happened. (laughs)
Didn't you take them out on a procession?
No. Listen to the truth. There is no place in Godhra to keep so many bodies, it is an administrative decision as to how to manage these? Now, all the bodies had to go to north [Ahmedabad], so the question was do we shift it individually or as a huge lot? Do we shift it in the morning or at night? The administration felt that we should shift it at night to reduce tension. The civil hospital in Ahmedabad is congested. And in 2001, it was in the outskirts. So, 16 bodies were brought into the civil hospital. There was no procession.
When the riots broke out, you would have gotten the information that people are dying? What did you do to stop it?
We announced a curfew, appealed to people to be peaceful. My first appeal was to Godhra, to let the police do their duty. The entire police force was asked to get on this job. There had never been a riot this big in
before, and the first riot in the age of 24X7 media.
Earlier the government had the time to organize its machinery as the news broke
out only in the following day's newspapers. There will surely be a difference
in the speed of the television and police movement! Forces had to compete with the
speed of TV news. India
Let me tell you what happened in the first 72 hours:
There hasn't been even one police gun shot, no lathi charge. There was lathi charge where Indira Gandhi's dead body was kept. They did it there to control the crowds. But, here people were arrested in advance.
But your officials, police and some in the media reported you having told the people to vent out their anger in the first 48 hours? Even Haren Pandya [the late home minister of the state] had said that.
The Supreme Court asked for an investigation to be conducted. We should trust that.
Did you tell the police to stop the rioting at any cost?
Of course! There are shoot at sight orders I gave the police. That is public.
Even at that time I had heard that people were identified and burnt, as though the whole thing was pre-planned.
It is all a lie. Instead, think about how many Muslims were protected then! If they were to be killed systematically, who would have been spared today?
But they say you were in the control room.
The SC [Supreme Court] team has investigated this. Wait until their report is submitted.
Did you go to the refugee camps yourself?
I went everywhere and investigated. There used to be PILs [public interest litigation] in the Gujarat High Court very often those days. And some judgements say that the best facilities were provided to the refugees.
What did the PM say to you at that point?
There is a video on that. Atalji [Atal Bihari Vajpayee] said that he has trust in me.
Senior Congress leaders including Rajiv Gandhi apologized after 1984 [communal riots]. And [Jagdish] Tytler was made to quit politics. You haven't regretted your actions or apologized until now. It has been 10 years. You should have done it as a head of state.
You should see the statements I made at that point. From that you will understand what Modi thinks and believes. There was a 2005 interview of mine with Prabhu Chawla. He asked me the same question and I told him, why should I apologize? If a government is responsible for this, then it should be hanged in the middle of the road. And they should be hanged as a deterrent - so that no administrator dares to do this again. They should not be forgiven, because that is encouraging the crime. If Modi has sinned, then Modi should be hanged. But, even after trying sincerely to save many lives, some people want to badmouth me due to political reasons, then I cant answer them.
Is there some sorrow in your heart about what happened? That you couldn't stop it?
First, I think I managed to stop the rioting. I will not admit that I couldn't.
If a correspondent of mine gives me wrong information and I print it, then I, as an editor, will apologize. There will be a case against me, not him.
I will give you all the documents with my statements. And if you are convinced that I was not involved in it, then you should also publish that you were harsh on me. Then you should say that for the past 10 years we have defamed Modi and you should apologize to me.
Even after the riots, your administration was not willing to deliver justice until the Supreme Court intervened. There was no SIT, the accused were all acquitted.
You are mistaken. The SIT deals with only 8-9 cases, here there have been thousands of FIRs [First Information Report] and arrests. Not one person was punished in 1984 riots. Justice has been delivered in more than 50 cases in my state. Only Best Bakery and Bilkis Bano cases have been moved to other states.
Why were there so many fake encounters in your admin?
Let me tell you what is happening in the state where you are an MP [Member of Parliament] from - Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati had said she made 396 encounters to maintain normalcy. In my state there were just 12 encounters.
The national human rights commission has said that in the last 10 years (in this country) 400 have been fake. There is an appeal in the supreme court that these should be re-investigated. So, it is a national issue, why is
being targeted. If you want to talk about Gujarat,
talk about UP , talk about the rest of the country.