Microsoft rationalized the patent as a way to answer to government requests for surveillance and wiretapping.

Microsoft is seeking a patent for technology that lets it eavesdrop on VoIP calls, weeks after Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion. 


Microsoft applied for the patent back in 2009, so it’s unlikely it was already preparing for a Skype acquisition two years later, but perhaps it had in mind similar voice messaging software such as Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications.

The patent, titled “Legal Intercept,” is for an interception software that lets someone surreptitiously record a call on a VoIP network. Microsoft rationalized the patent as a way to answer to government requests for surveillance and wiretapping.

“Sometimes, a government or one of its agencies may need to monitor communications between telephone users,” the patent reads.

“Traditional techniques for silently recording telephone communication may not work correctly with VoIP and other network-based communication technology,” it reads. “For example, VoIP may include audio messages transmitted via gaming systems, instant messaging protocols that transmit audio, Skype and Skype-like applications, meeting software, video conferencing software, and the like.”

If awarded, Sophos security advisor Chester Wisniewski said the patent would help Skype overcome resistance from foreign governments insisting on the backdoor. Skype itself is no stranger to this. For instance, last year the Indian government has threatened to ban Skype, Google, and Blackberry for not complying to stringent surveillance laws. In 2008, Skype’s reputation in China took a dive after it admitted to monitoring calls on behalf of the government. The Austrian police has also claimed it can bug Skype calls, though Skype has never commented on the matter.

Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, told Computerworld that the patent could be a step back for anti-government efforts, “First, making a communication technology FBI-friendly means also making it dictator-friendly, and in the long run this is not good for movements like the Arab Spring,” he said. “Second, experience shows that building in back doors invites exploits.”

Last fall, reports surfaced that the Obama administration was working on regulations that would make it easier for law enforcers to wiretap communications, which would probably require companies to create backdoors for the government to listen in.

Photo credit:  Diritto Mercato Tecnologia

Via PC Mag