REPORT: Skype Had A Secret Program Called ‘Project Chess’ To Help Intelligence Agencies Access Internet Calls
Five years ago, Skype allegedly set up a secret program to help the government spy on its users.
It was called “Project Chess,” the New York Times’s James Risen and Nick Wingfield report.
Project Chess was reportedly set up approximately five years ago. That was before Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011. It had less than twelve employees back then.
Skype has previously said it works with authorities, but it denied that recent changes within Skype were due to added pressure from Microsoft to allow easier access to calls.
Project Chess: How U.S. Snoops On Your Skype
If you thought that the U.S. government only tracks meta-data on your calls or scoops up your Facebook page and YouTube videos, think again. Skype — a subsidiary of Microsoft since October 2011 when Redmond bought it for $8.5 billion – operates a program that makes it easy for the government to snoop on your Skype calls.
In 2008, when it was an eBay subsidiary, Skype began Project Chess, “to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials,” reports Bits.
Anonymous sources, seeking not to damage their business links with the government, told Bits that “fewer than a dozen people inside Skype” developed Project Chess at the same time that Skype was disputing legal issues with the government.
Report: Skype Considered Government Requests
It’s not clear whether Project Chess immediately resulted in a program enabling the government to access Skype users’ calls or chats. According to the PRISM Internet surveillance documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Skype joined that program in 2011 — just months before Microsoft bought the company.
A Microsoft spokesperson refused to comment when asked about Project Chess by Mashable.
Skype’s history with government requests is complicated. The service has long been considered a safer way for users to discuss sensitive information than traditional telecom providers, which have a long history of cooperating with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. However, Skype has legally been subject to government wiretaps under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) since VoIP services were included in a 2006 update to that act.