Thursday January 24th, 2013;
Skype Division President Tony Bates
Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
Dear Mr. Bates, Mr. Lynch and Mr. Smith,
Skype is a voice, video and chat communications platform with over 600 million users worldwide, effectively making it one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. Many of its users rely on Skype for secure communications—whether they are activists operating in countries governed by authoritarian regimes, journalists communicating with sensitive sources, or users who wish to talk privately in confidence with business associates, family, or friends.
It is unfortunate that these users, and those who advise them on best security practices, work in the face of persistently unclear and confusing statements about the confidentiality of Skype conversations, and in particular the access that governments and other third parties have to Skype user data and communications.
We understand that the transition of ownership to Microsoft, and the corresponding shifts in jurisdiction and management, may have made some questions of lawful access, user data collection, and the degree of security of Skype communications temporarily difficult to authoritatively answer. However, we believe that from the time of the original announcement of a merger in October 2011, and on the eve of Microsoft’s integration of Skype into many of its key software and services, the time has come for Microsoft to publicly document Skype’s security and privacy practices.
We call on Skype to release a regularly updated Transparency Report that includes:
Other companies, such as Google, Twitter and Sonic.net already release transparency reports detailing requests for user data by third parties twice a year. We believe that this data is vital to help us help Skype’s most vulnerable users, who rely on your software for the privacy of their communications and, in some cases, their lives.
1. In June 2008, Skype stated it could not eavesdrop on user conversations due to its peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques. Additionally, Skype claimed it was not required to comply with expanded CALEA rules on lawful interception as long as it was based in Europe. As a result of the service being acquired by Microsoft in 2011, it may now be required to comply with CALEA due to the company being headquartered in Redmond, Washington. Furthermore, as a US-based communication provider, Skype would therefore be required to comply with the secretive practice of National Security Letters.
Since Skype was acquired by Microsoft, both entities have refused to answer questions about exactly what kinds of user data can be intercepted, what user data is retained, or whether eavesdropping on Skype conversations may take place. In 2012, the FBI stated that it had issued a warrant for chats going back to 2007, and that it had utilized those chats as evidence as the basis for criminal charges. This contradicts Skype's own policy stating that chats are retained for a maximum of 30 days.
In May 2006, the FCC issued a Second Report and Order that required facilities-based broadband Internet access providers and providers of interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service to come into compliance with CALEA obligations no later than May 14, 2007. Existing US surveillance law is unclear regarding the specific form of legal process required for law enforcement agencies to compel the production of metadata associated with Internet based text messaging services.