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Belgian court says Skype must provide interception facilities

Microsoft classified as a telco, so told to cough up. It may gaufre an appeal

By Richard Chirgwin

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Skype has failed in its appeal against a 2016 fine in Belgium for failing to help authorities tap calls in a criminal investigation, with the court saying it must comply with the country's telecommunications laws.

Last year, a court in Mechelen imposed the €30,000 fine, because Skype was unable to hand over anything more than metatadata to law enforcement.

The case started with a year 2012 investigation into a criminal gang that used Skype to communicate. The Microsoft-owned VoIP and messaging system operated in a peer-to-peer model at the time, making its encryption impenetrable to the company and law enforcement authorities alike.

Microsoft argued that the court's desires were technically impossible, and also that as a software provider it wasn’t subject to Belgium’s telecommunications laws. Both arguments were rejected by the Mechelen court, so it filed an appeal.

The court of appeals in Antwerp yesterday (November 15) rejected Skype’s appeal and confirmed the fine. Reuters reported the judge ruled that Microsoft qualified as a telecommunications provider.

Belgium’s Nieuwsblad.be quoted the decision: “An operator or service provider who targets Belgian consumers on the Belgian economic market must comply with Belgian regulations and must organize themselves in such a way that they can easily comply with the court’s claims”.

That looks ominous, because it suggests the courts can outlaw services who use strong encryption, if they don’t also provide wiretap facilities.

The court also said Skype agreed that interception could be possible with “necessary technical adjustments”. It is unclear if that means “if you remove the encryption”.

Microsoft told Reuters it will consider further legal action. ®

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