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24th Jan 2021

Eurojust retracts Skype wiretapping plans

  • National prosecutors and police have been having a hard time in trying to listen to Skype conversations (Photo: EUobserver)

In an apparent U-turn, the EU's judicial cooperation body has said it is not officially examining ways to wire-tap Skype and other computer-to-computer conversations.

Eurojust on Wednesday (25 February) retracted previous statements saying it was taking the lead in helping national authorities to wiretap Skype conversations, saying they were issued "prematurely" and were "incorrect".

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In a statement issued on Friday, Eurojust said it was appointing Italian prosecutor Carmen Manfredda to head the team dealing with looking at legal and practical matters on how to help national police and prosecutors in wiretapping Skype and similar computer-to-computer conversations.

The admission was immediately widely reported in European newspapers. However, a subsequent statement, released on Wednesday said:

"When requested, Eurojust could play an important role in overcoming the technical and legal obstacles to the interception of internet telephony systems, taking into account the various data protection rules and civil rights."

In addition, its statement that Skype did not cooperate with Italian prosecutors also proved to be incorrect.

In fact, Ms Manfredda, a member of the Eurojust board, was only "approached" by Italian anti-mafia prosecutors in this regard in 2006, but no decision had been taken since.

Johannes Thuy, Eurojust's spokesman, could not be reached for further comments on why this communication error occurred.

For its part, Skype said it was glad the issue has been cleared up.

"We are pleased that Eurojust has clarified their previous statement and has recognised our commitment to cooperate with law enforcement authorities which Skype does as much as is legally and technically possible. Skype looks forward to working more with Eurojust in the future," Brian O'Shaughnessy, head of corporate communications at Skype told this website.

Skype, a Danish-Swedish business developed by Estonian programmers that was sold to E-Bay in 2005 and has over 350 million customers worldwide, is said to be un-spyable by intelligence services.

Italian anti-mafia prosecutors requested Eurojust's help, pointing out that criminals in Italy were increasingly making phone calls over the internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile wiretapping.

Customs and tax police in Milan had overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg drug consignment.

Bavarian authorities allegedly also attempted to wiretap Skype conversations and commissioned an IT firm to do this, but were not successful, according to documents obtained by Piraten Party, a movement promoting Internet freedom.

The only way to wiretap computer-to-computer calls (VoIP) is to hack the computers themselves, Andreas Popp from the German branch of the Piraten Party told this website.

"But this does not only give access to the VoIP calls, with a few clicks it gives access to the whole computer, making it possible to copy any private data on the machine or even place fake evidence on it," he noted.

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