Microsoft granted patent to ‘silently record’ web-based voice and video comms

Microsoft has been granted a patent for a technology that will allow it to listen in on web-based communications such as video and voice calls – including those made on its recently acquired Skype service.

The patent for the “Legal Intercept” technology was filed in December 2009, long before Redmond’s $8.5bn acquisition of the world’s most popular VoIP application; Skype is, however, mentioned in the context of possible applications of the technology in the original patent application, which is for “silently recording communications.”

According to a summary of the technology in the patent application, “data associated with a request to establish a communication is modified to cause  the communication to be established via a path that includes a recording agent…because of the way in which the data has been modified a protocol entity selects a path that includes the recording agent..[which] then silently records the communication.”

Among the listed examples of “systems, environments or configurations that may be suitable for use” with aspects of the technology are PCs, handheld devices, servers, set-top boxes, smartphones, gaming devices, printers and automobile-embedded devices. Hardly surprising, then, that privacy groups such as America’s Centre for Digital Democracy (CDD), are expressing concern about the possibilities of such technology. IT in Government reports that CDD executive director Jeffrey Chester has said the patent “aligns with Microsoft’s broader goals” of incorporating tracking technologies in its Skype services in order to “aggressively expand its mobile advertising system across the world.” In addition, Chester suggested that, as a consequence of the technology, Skype “will likely soon have ad targeting and user profiling digit strings attached.”

Other commentators, while accepting that the patent complies with legal requirements governing the use of such technology in the US, have pointed out that covert surveillance requests can just as readily be used by despots as by legitimate entities. Other have raised concerns regarding the knock-on security effects of creating “back doors” into voice and data networks.

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