back to article Skype hauled into court after refusing to hand call records to cops

Skype has been called to appear before a court in Belgium after refusing to hand over customer data following a request for assistance in a criminal investigation. A court in Mechelen near Brussels wanted "data from messages and calls exchanged on Microsoft-owned Skype", a regulatory requirement that a Belgian telecoms …

  1. Only me!
    Thumb Up

    Good for them

    It is always good to see that the correct process in law is getting followed. The police cannot just come in to my house and expect to go through all the draws without first getting the ok from a judge that there might be something worth looking for. So why should they be able to do it to Skype?

    That is of cause, unless the law is a really stupid one, like the extradition law the UK has with the US.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Good for them

      It wasn't a warrantless search. The question is if VoIP services should abide to the same rules telephone operators are bound to. Today communication data are very valuable for any proper investigation, performed with all the legal protections for the suspects. It could also be data that proves someone is innocent.

      Also, MS in asserting Skype is a Luxembourg based company, is firing into its feet. The judge asserting that MS has to hand over data stored in Ireland because MS is an USA based company will be happy...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Good for them

        Microsoft Ireland isn't a USA based company, it is entirely separate but wholly owned company that abides by EU law.

        Skype luxemburg also obeys Eu law and Belgium can get a warrant in Luxemburg if it wants stored data handed over. If it wants live data in Belgium handed over then it needs to prove that the law applies to Skype in Belgium.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good for them

          Microsoft Ireland isn't a USA based company, it is entirely separate but wholly owned company that abides by EU law.

          That's your problem, right there. When you want to track leverage you need to follow the whole chain, not where marketing tells you to stop looking.

          As for the case at hand, same issue.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good for them

      >The police cannot just come in to my house and expect to go through all the draws without first getting the ok from a judge

      No but the out of control intelligent services of some countries sure as hell have stored every email you have ever sent in their databases (and perhaps even got at some that are encrypted based on some of the Snowden revelations). Something no American politician other than Rand Paul is against (can't believe siding with him but there you go).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good for them

      >Skype has been called to appear before a court in Belgium

      Must be nice to live in a country that follows the law instead of living in a country that unethically if not illegally hacks the telecoms in a friendly western country like Belgium.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good for them

        Must be nice to live in a country that follows the law

        Don't believe everything you read. If you know the right people in Belgium you can get away with a lot, like running over a cyclist on a priority road and have the cyclist convicted for not being careful (real fact, happened to people I know personally). They have managed to clamp down a bit, but corruption and "friendly adjustments" are still rife.

        1. Tabor

          Re: Good for them

          Why the downvotes for AC ? I'll do him one better : I am one of the cyclists. As a 12 year old nipper, I was hit by a car when crossing the road. Said car was doing twice the speed limit, as testified by various witnesses (including an off-duty policeman who was overtaken by the offender). End result : I got a cool ambulance ride, my parents had to pay for the aforementioned ride and the damage to the car (not to mention a new bike). Because, you know, he played soccer in the first league, and I wasn't seriously hurt.

          That being said, I'm pretty sure that

          a) this is not exclusive to Belgium

          b) it would not be possible anymore in Belgium (this was close to thiry years ago)

          Back on-topic : difficult to choose sides on this one... it's not a US-style NSL, the case has merit, and there was a court-ordered warrant. But (leaving the border issue aside) : from what I read in the Belgian newspapers I get the impression that they expect access to anything with a warrant and expect a backdoor to encrypted communications. Which kind of defeats the purpose... So I guess I'm rooting for Microsoft on this one.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good for them

          >If you know the right people anywhere you can get away with a lot,

          FIFY. My point was less defending Belgium (been there, a really cool weird place, a bit too Frenchy (at least in Bruxelles) though) and more pointing just how far the US government have jumped the shark (and did 14 back flips) when it comes to unlawfully invading privacy of everyone including its own citizens.

    4. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Good for them

      I'm not sure where you live but certainly in the UK the Police can, may and will come to your house and search your drawers without getting the ok from a judge first.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good for them

        I'm not sure where you live but certainly in the UK the Police can, may and will come to your house and search your drawers without getting the ok from a judge first.

        Really? Under what statue? As far as I know they need a warrant (or make up some probable cause, of course, but that's getting dicey with too many people with cameras around).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good for them

          They absolutely can come in to your house without a warrant, using their power under s17 PACE, among others.

          By contrast, s8 is the [most commonly-used] search warrant power.

          They can seize evidence from anywhere they lawfully are too.

          1. TitterYeNot

            Re: Good for them

            "They absolutely can come in to your house without a warrant, using their power under s17 PACE, among others."

            As far as I'm aware, PACE allows police entry without prosecution for trespass under the following circumstances - s.17(1) (e) empowers the police to enter a property for the purpose of “saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property.”

            I'm not even going to attempt to imagine a situation where a search of someone's drawers or underwear is likely to save life or limb...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good for them

              s17 allows entry when:

              Executing a warrant

              Arresting a person

              Recapturing a person at large

              Saving life/limb

              Preventing damage to property

              Perform a statutory duty

              While exercise s17 powers, an officer can exercise their s19 power to seize property if they have reasonable grounds to believe the property is related to the offence.

              Note also that a search warrant can be retrospective - as in s18(5) PACE

            2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

              Re: Good for them

              "I'm not even going to attempt to imagine a situation where a search of someone's drawers or underwear is likely to save life or limb..."

              There's a bomb in the building, 3 seconds on the countdown and they need a pair of pliers to cut the red wire.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: Good for them

                "I'm not even going to attempt to imagine a situation where a search of someone's drawers or underwear is likely to save life or limb..."

                If you didn't let them in they would have to hit you with a baton, therefore letting them in saves life and limb - simple really

        2. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Good for them

          Police and Criminal Evidence Act for one. There are many others. I believe there was an entire book of reasons published in the early 90s.

          Anyone arrested can have their home searched and Home Office interpretation is that desire to search means the necessity criteria for arrest is met.

    5. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Coat

      Kinky kops

      The police cannot just come in to my house and expect to go through all the draws without first getting the ok from a judge

      Why would they want to go through all your underwear? Got unusually pervy rozzers round your way?

    6. Tom 13

      Re: Good for them

      It is not evident from this article that the police have or have not followed the legal process. In fact, the way I read the article, I suspect the police HAVE followed the same process for Skype that they would for phone records. MS is apparently planning to argue Skype is not a phone replacement, even though that's part of how they pitch it.

      If society is to survive, it is going to have to stop assigning criminal motives to police without reasonable/probable cause to do so.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Courts should be involved

    MS are quite right here. There should be a proper and judicially supervised system for accessing any data, and some process by which it is reported beyond the investigation.

    Sure, MS and similar should freeze any records from deletion immediately on any reasonable police request, but to actually get the data there ought to be a proper system of oversight and one that will protect journalists, whistle-blowers, etc, form abuse by those in power.

    1. Sven Coenye

      Re: Courts should be involved

      The court is involved. A peculiarity of Belgian law is that police investigations are headed up by a judge whose job is is to unearth all evidence, exculpatory as well. So it is the court that requested access to the records, not just the cops.

      And to add to the article: the local dead tree media reported the case is about the Armenian mob using Skype to coordinate gun trafficking.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Courts should be involved

      one that will protect journalists, whistle-blowers

      You will find that any whistleblowing protection always starts with the fact that unauthorised disclosure is a crime, sometimes even a criminal one, and whistleblowing can be introduced as a defence if made plausible. This means you'll always have the cause for investigation, and the protection only ever comes afterwards when it's heading to court. Given that it takes the better part of a decade for some cases to make it to court (even it gets political or lots of press exposure), that is IMHO *very* bad because it keeps the threat of possible conviction hanging over a whistleblower for a long time.

  3. h4rm0ny
    Pint

    Good for Skype. Your interface is weird; and your availability status and grouping functionality are both primitive to an alarming degree. But here's to you for doing the right thing!

    1. petur

      Sorry, I'm totally against warrantless and mass collection of data, but if a court orders skype to hand over data for a criminal investigation and skype refuses, the next step will be that they will be summoned for obstructing investigation, not handing over evidence or even accomplice to criminal deeds.

      So in this case, it is not good on them.

      I hope that the criminals that you encounter on your path (sooner or later) will be using skype and the lot, maybe then you'll see the error of your thinking.

      1. petur
        Thumb Down

        So 3 downvoters think that Armenian criminals discussing arms transports should have their privacy respected even if a court requests access to the data. The criminals both have Belgian identity papers and were in Belgium when they used skype to communicate.

        Good grief.

        1. Adam 1 Silver badge

          1. Suspected criminals; if they had been found guilty by a competent court then these logs would hardly be necessary.

          2. Yes. Privacy of citizens should be the default position.

          3. Microsoft Ireland is subject to EU laws. If Belgium fills out the right forms through established EU processes, they will get the data.

          4. Even if held by an entity outside Europe, Interpol processes are available to them.

          1. petur

            1. so in your mind a search warrant can never be obtained because as long as there is no conviction they are not guilty so their privacy is more important, and if they are convicted the evidence is not needed anyway. You might want to think that one over again.

            In this case a judge found that there was enough suspicion of wrongdoing to order the warrant. I honestly do not see what your problem with that is.

            2. I agree. But this is a criminal investigation, and a proper warrant is available.

            3 and 4. We will see. Yahoo tried the same excuse in 2013 and failed. I'm getting the popcorn.

      2. rh587 Silver badge

        "Sorry, I'm totally against warrantless and mass collection of data, but if a court orders skype to hand over data for a criminal investigation and skype refuses, the next step will be that they will be summoned for obstructing investigation, not handing over evidence or even accomplice to criminal deeds."

        Remind us all how much jurisdiction a Belgian court has in Luxembourg, or the USA for that matter?

        You can't order a foreign company to do squat unless they have a branch registered in your country which you can serve a summons on. Sure, they can post a summons to their Luxembourg office, but they're under no compulsion to show up. What are they going to do - send Belgian Police across the border to arrest Skype execs in Luxembourg? That's rendition/kidnap, and wars have started over less provocative acts.

        That's why we have European Arrest Warrants and cross-border cooperation, so the Belgians can make a request to the relevant authorities to help them in securing evidence. It is entirely right and proper that the Belgian Police go through the proper process to secure evidence held in another country.

        I have friends in the Channel Islands who service various clients where the law requires customer data to be stored locally, in-country. Are you suggesting that the FBI should simply be able to say "oi, send us a clone of that disk" and they should just wing it over with narry a thought?

        Not a flocking chance. If anyone wants that data, they go to the Jersey/Guernsey authorities and ask for their co-operation in acquiring the data they require. If the request isn't coming from local authorities, it has no power whatsoever, because Jersey companies are not subject to US law. They're subject to Jersey law, just as Luxembourg companies are not subject to Belgian law (or Belgian law enforcement). Funny that.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, I'm totally against warrantless and mass collection of data, but if a court orders skype to hand over data for a criminal investigation and skype refuses, the next step will be that they will be summoned for obstructing investigation, not handing over evidence or even accomplice to criminal deeds.

        I am *entirely* with you on that (upvote). There is a balance to be struck where law enforcement does have the tools available to do what we basically pay them for. The big, massive HOWEVER is that such powerful tools should only be used transparently, under supervision and in a way that ensures that abusers are accountable for their actions, which is where things are presently going wrong. In this case, there is judicial oversight so I think it's entirely warranted (unintentional pun, sorry).

        What is NOT right is the whole warrantless surveillance that governments want to impose, because that immediately makes me wonder what they're trying to hide. They are tracking us like a teenager who doesn't want you close to his stash of dirty mags under his bed.

  4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    All too often the police see access to computer data as a marvellous opportunity to go on a fishing expedition. Get arrested for anything these days in the UK and the police are free to search your house, car *and phone & computers* without a warrant, regardless of whether the alleged crime is at all likely to have left computer related evidence. Any papers found in your house will need to be shown to be relevant to the crime before they may be seized as potential evidence, but seizing a computer is permitted even though it will be completely unknown as to whether it contains any evidence whatsoever, or whether it contains legally privileged information (e.g. letters to/from lawyers) that the police are not legally permitted to seize.

    In my opinion, seizing computer data should only be permitted after the police have obtained a specific warrant which is issued *by a court* only after the police have shown good reason why they believe that evidence of a crime may be found on that computer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "In my opinion, seizing computer data should only be permitted after the police have obtained a specific warrant which is issued *by a court* only after the police have shown good reason why they believe that evidence of a crime may be found on that computer."

      In my opinion, warrantless searches should themselves be an offence - and unless a member of the public can use ignorance, mistake or providence as exculpatory, then the authorities cannot use fishing expeditions either ....

  5. Thought About IT
    Coat

    Confused

    Hmmm, I thought Rupert Murdoch was fully supportive of mass surveillance.

    Or am I confusing Sky and Skype?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Confused

      Your post will be used as evidence in the upcoming trial...

  6. arober11

    Now if Belgium simply cloned the UK's RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) Act they could cut the judiciary out. Stick a stamp on upside down or get the postage wrong by a penny and any Postman can demand all you communication data be handed over, set up a surveillance van outside your premises, and bug your house without a warrant of any kind.

    The list of bodies with extrajudicial powers in the UK is quite frightening, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The list of bodies that need no permission to access anything including privileged information is thoroughly frightening on this side of the Atlantic as well. The government was kind of nice to issue me a book on my privacy rights. Try none.

  7. Someone Else Silver badge
    FAIL

    Oh...THAT ol' debbil again <sigh>

    "It's indeed becoming a bigger problem for cyber crime units in bigger cases (e.g. terrorism)," he added.

    What? Really?!? That old chestnut again? How original. But they're slipping...they forgot to mention pedophiles in their "be scared, be very scared" attempt to justify their large, sucking sound.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    am i imagining things or have Theresa May and predecessors been wandering through here downvoting things generally supportive of civil liberties?

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      50% down votes from May-ites. 50% down votes from those who actually read the article and understood the 2 key factors :

      1. It wasn't warrantless.

      2. But it was cross border.

      hence MS had to reject it on point 2 alone if it was to remain consistent with the US vs MS Ireland case.

  9. Maty

    I find myself cheering for Microsoft? My, how the world has changed!

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Trollface

      Red Letter Day

      I find myself cheering for Microsoft? My, how the world has changed!

      Well, even a broken watch* is right two times a day.

      * Analog, of course, not Apple.

  10. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Privacy compliance...

    theatre.

  11. Michael Habel Silver badge

    The question here I think hearkens back towards net neutrality, and how we want our Internet ran. more or less like it is now... (e.g. As a Title II Utility [Telecoms]), or the way most ISP would have it as the next gen level of tiered DTH services?

    I'm all for net neutrality Title II Tax, and all... And if VoIP then gets treated like any other "Traditional" Servive... So be it...

    BTW: I don't know how it is in Blighty... Here in Germany... What used to be a Combo of ISDN + DSL... Has now been fully replaced by VoIP and the same DSL / Cable I'm not even sure IF you can even still get an Analog Line in anymore. So if my Provider Deutsche Telekom only give me the option of VoIP, am I not just as safe, as if i were on Skype?

    No?! Why?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      If you were on a German voip line owned and administered by a German company in Germany then the Belgium authorities would have to ask the Germans for access.

      If you were in Germany then the Germans would have to ask the Germans for the data.

      If you are on Skype in Belgium then the Americans are tapping it because they own Microsoft, the Germans are tapping it because the data almost certain goes through CDX, the Brits are tapping it as a backup for the Americans, the Chinese are tapping it because they can.

      About the only people not tapping it are the Belgian government and that's because they can't find the Belgian government.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        @ Yet Another Anonymous coward

        See Icon -->

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