Those thinking that their Skype calls might be safe from government snooping, as they are not traditional phone calls will be disappointed by the information reported by the New York Times on Thursday. Skype’s Project Chess is a program that makes it easy for the government to tap into your Skype calls.
The report says that, in 2008, when Skype was still an eBay division, Project Chess was begun “to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials.” That same year, Skype’s then director of corporate communications told CNET that “because of Skype’s peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques, Skype would not be able to comply with a request for live interception or wiretap of Skype-to-Skype communications.”
According to anonymous sources, Project Chess appears to have corrected what law enforcement and government officials perhaps saw as a “bug.” The development appears to have been fast-and-furious. The sources added that “fewer than a dozen people inside Skype” developed Project Chess.
Project Chess has never been acknowledged by Skype. However, according to the report, Microsoft executives would not reaffirm Caulkin’s claim that Skype calls could not be wiretapped.
(eBay sold Skype for $2.75 billion in 2009 to a group of private investors: Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and Index Ventures. Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011).
The Skype revelations were just a prime example of what the NYT article really delved into: the close relationship between the NSA and tech companies. Despite the fact that companies such as Google, Apple and more have said they knew nothing of PRISM before it was outed by Edward Snowden, the NYT said that firms sometimes create secret teams that proactively attempt to find ways to cooperate more completely with the NSA.
Despite the companies’ assertions that they cooperate with the agency only when legally compelled, current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the NSA and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency. The companies do so, the officials say, because they want to control the process themselves. They are also under subtle but powerful pressure from the NSA to make access easier.
In a sense, not only are the NSA and other governmental agencies closer to tech firms that the companies would like us to believe, they are also more aligned with each other than you might think.
After all, both love data mining. The key difference is that tech firms mine their customer data in order to make more money; the NSA does it for intelligence.