News Analysis: Now that Microsoft is on its way to becoming a telephone company, it is finding itself subject to a lot of things that a mere software company never had to deal with.
that Microsoft is buying Skype, new complications have cropped up that its
management may never have thought of when it inked the deal a couple of months
ago. While Microsoft obviously knew that it was buying a phone company, did the
company's lawyers warn it that this would mean working with a whole new set of
government agencies from a whole new direction?
example, phone companies have a legal obligation to provide law enforcement
with the ability to tap into conversations. While there's supposed to be a
court order to do this, the phone company still has to comply. This is true
around the world, which is why India was about to ban BlackBerry devices last
year. It's also true in the United States, where the Department of Homeland
related agencies use wiretaps
on a regular basis to keep tabs on suspected
criminals and terrorists.
ability to tap phones has been around for a long time. But the ability to tap
into digital communications has been a tougher nut to crack. First, it was
digital cell phone calls, and now the problems center around VOIP (voice over
IP). It's hard, but not impossible, to tap a VOIP call, but it helps a lot if
you have access to the same switch where the VOIP call originates or
eWEEK's Fahmida Rashid explains,
Microsoft filed a patent in 2009
for technology that would greatly simplify
the process of monitoring a VOIP conversation. At the time it was filed, this
patent got little attention. After all, while Microsoft had telephony products
at the time, it wasn't a carrier. So if Microsoft had a need-or a warrant-that
required listening in to a conversation over VOIP on its own phone system, it
wouldn't have been that hard to arrange.
that was then, and this is now. Microsoft, which is in the final stages of
buying Skype, is effectively becoming a phone company. While VOIP carriers such
as Skype haven't been wiretapped in the past, it was because of the technical
difficulty. Once the voice information leaves the first Ethernet switch, it may
be broken up into different packets being sent over different routes. Out on
the open Internet, tapping such a phone conversation would have been
impossible. With Microsoft's patent, apparently this is no longer the case.
it's interesting that Microsoft came up with a way to monitor VOIP in a way
that's a lot easier than trying to capture packets in midflight, one has to
wonder if the Redmond Giant was planning to become a phone company all along.