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Microsoft’s Skype Loses Belgian Appeal Over Customer Data

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Microsoft unit fine upheld and is ordered to hand over customer data relating to criminal investigation

Microsoft has suffered a legal setback after it lost a legal battle in Belgium after it was ordered to hand over customer data.

Microsoft refused to hand over the data, but Skype has now lost an appeal at the Antwerp-based appeals court, and it faces a modest fine.

Microsoft has previous form here. Redmond won many admirers for its protracted legal fight against attempts by US judicial authorities to obtain customer data (emails) held in an overseas data centre in Ireland. It eventually won that legal fight in 2016.

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Appeal Refusal

The more recent case in Belgium however began in 2015, after Skype’s refusal to hand over customer data concerning an user, to a court in the country.

Microsoft’s refusal came despite the fact that the request was made as part of a criminal investigation, and it meant that Skype was summoned to appear in a Belgian court.

The Belgian court in Mechelen, north of Brussels had sought the Skype message and call data of an unnamed individual.

Under Belgian law, telecom operators have to adhere to the demand.

But Skype had argued it was not bound by the country’s Telecom Act, which requires companies to hand over data to aid police in investigating criminal activities.

Skype also said it was not a telecom operator and did not have the technical capability to comply with the request.

But now according to Reuters, the Belgian Appeals Court has upheld a lower court’s decision, and ruled that Skype was “indisputably” a telecoms operator and that references in Belgian law to “telecommunication” included “electronic communication”.

The Appeals court also upheld the 30,000 euro (£26,932) fine against Skype.

And the Appeals court also reportedly dismissed Skype’s argument that Luxembourg (where Skype and its servers are based) could block such co-operation.

The data the court is looking for originated in Belgium, the Appeals court said.

A spokesman for Microsoft reportedly said the company was considering further legal options.

Telecom or Not?

Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion (£6.4 billion) in 2011 and integrated its Voice over-IP (VoIP) and video communications features into a number of its products over the following years.

But there has been speculation as to whether Skype can ultimately be classified as a telecommunication operator.

That said, in 2011, Microsoft patented technology that could secretly intercept, monitor and record communications on VoIP networks.

Skype has been historically very reticent about how its technology works, or what protocols and security measures are in place. Skype has also refused to make its system interoperable with outside products.

The Indian government has previously indicated it was willing ban Skype services unless there was some kind of an intercept capability for law enforcement authorities.

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