Microsoft Builds VOIP Intercept Tool at Right Time

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-29 Print this article Print


As intriguing as it might be to think that there was a long secret plan to become a phone company, it's more likely the real reason was to provide a management capability for its existing VOIP products. Microsoft customers with Office Communicator have long been able to tie the product into the office phone systems and manage a VOIP network. On a more consumer level, Microsoft Live Messenger has been able to carry VOIP traffic for years.

It's likely that Microsoft discovered how to monitor these calls during the development of these or some similar products and-suspecting that the day may arrive when such phone tapping becomes a legal requirement-patented the technology. In this case, the requirement turned out to be important at just the right time. While it's possible that the company was prescient when it developed its "Legal Intercept" technology it's more likely a fortuitous accident.

One of these days, the DHS is going to come calling, warrant in hand, and want to monitor a Skype conversation. Because Microsoft will now be legally obligated to provide the monitoring service, it will be able to meet the government's requirement. Even better from Microsoft's perspective is that all of those other VOIP carriers out there will no longer have a reason not to provide access-they just have to get a copy of the Microsoft monitoring product.

I'll skip past the civil liberty discussion here. The government has been able to monitor wired conversations for decades. Government agencies have been able to monitor cell phone calls for years. Now it's VOIP's turn. While you may not like this, it was your representatives who passed the Patriot Act and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. If you don't like this capability, talk to them or vote for somebody else next time.

The fact is that the government has had this requirement for some time, and now it can be enforced on VOIP conversations. Like it or not, Microsoft found a way to do it, which will make compliance with these laws easier and cheaper for phone providers than it used to be. Some people may not consider this a good thing, but now there's a way to do it. Maybe the DHS will catch a terrorist this way and make everyone else a believer. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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