Skype Taken To Court Over Customer Data Refusal

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Microsoft refuses to hand over customer data to Belgian authorities investigating criminal matter

Microsoft has landed itself in hot water in Belgium following the company’s refusal to hand over customer data concerning a Skype 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. The refusal has meant however that Skype has been summoned to appear in a Belgian court.

Criminal Investigation

Skype app

The Belgium court in Mechelen, north of Brussels is seeking the Skype message and call data of an unnamed individual. Under Belgian law, telecom operators have to adhere to the demand.

“The judicial question is whether Skype is also a telecoms operator,” a court spokesman said, according to Reuters.

Skype meanwhile has reportedly argued it is not bound by the country’s Telecom Act, which requires companies to hand over data to aid police in investigating criminal activities.

The popular VoIP could however face a fine and be forced to share the information.

TechweekEurope approached Microsoft for a statement on the matter, but received no response at the time of writing.

It is worth noting that Microsoft has previous form here. Redmond has won many admirers for its protracted legal fight against attempts by US judicial authorities to obtain customer data held overseas.

A year year ago, American prosecutors issued a warrant for emails stored by Microsoft in an Irish data centre, in connection with a drug-related investigation.

Today’s news is the latest conflict Belgium has had with technology firms, as earlier this month, the nation’s data protection agency fiercely criticised Facebook over its refusal to accept the authority of Belgian authorities.

Operator Or Not?

Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion (£5.1 billion) in 2011 and has worked to integrate Voice over-IP (VoIP) and video communications features into a number of its products. Skype ultimately replaced MSN Messenger in April 2013 for example.

But there has been speculation for years now as to whether Skype can be classified as a telecommunication operator. In 2011, Microsoft patented technology that can secretly intercept, monitor and record communications on voice over IP 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 other products.

The Indian government has previously indicated that it will ban Skype services unless there is some kind of an intercept capability for law enforcement authorities, and it’s not the only country to complain about proprietary technology that makes eavesdropping impossible.

Last month, Microsoft started rolling out Skype for Business to Office 365 customers, with all users expected to make the transition from Lync in the coming months.

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