Nishant Bora
Jun 30, 2011

Microsoft’s “I Spy with My Little Eye”


On 23rd June 2011, Microsoft obtained a patent in U.S. titled ‘Legal Intercept’ which is claimed to be capable of spying over the internet. More specifically, it is a wire-tapping technology of sorts which seeks to intercept, monitor and record communication over the internet. This would apply to calls made over Skype, VOIP, etc.


However, it may not be good news for the users of these services since the recorded/ intercepted data might be used later on in point of time by law-enforcement or government agencies for purposes of reviewing it for certain purposes.


Until now, calls over the internet were free from detection and it was also impossible to trace them. The rationale is thus expressed in simple words by Microsoft in the patent application itself that sometimes, a government or one of its agencies may need to monitor communications between telephone users. To do this with the Plain old telephone service (POTS), after obtaining the appropriate legal permission, a recording device may be placed at a central office associated with a selected telephone number. Electrical signals corresponding to sound to and from the telephones at the selected telephone number may be monitored and transformed into sound. This sound may then be recorded by the recording device without the telephone users being aware of the recording. With new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other communication technology, the POTS model for recording communications does not work. 


Briefly, aspects of the subject matter described herein relate to silently recording communications. 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. Modification may include, for example, adding, changing, and/or deleting within the data. 


It may be noteworthy that Microsoft’s proposed $8.5 billion deal to purchase Skype won the antitrust approval only in the third week of June 2011. The grant has come exactly in one and a half year of its filing date, i.e. 23rd December 2009. And only within a week of this, the Patent office seals the patent for its web-spying technology. Well, if this is not pre-meditated, then it is too good to be merely a coincidence either.


The precise manner of putting the technology to use remains under the dark right now, but certain government agencies would definitely look forward to it since presently there aren’t adequate ways to legally monitor internet communications.


As for the more technologically sound ones, here is what is ‘claimed’ in the patent specification titled ‘Legal Intercept’ and bearing Application No. 20110153809:


A method implemented at least in part by a computer, the method comprising: receiving data regarding establishing a communication session between at least two entities via a switched packet network for a communication that includes audio; locating one or more parameters in the data that indicate one or more local candidate communication points of at least one of the at least two entities; removing the one or more parameters from the data to cause the communication session to be established over a path that includes a recording agent that is capable of silently copying the communication between the at least two entities; and providing the data with the parameters removed to a protocol entity that uses the data to follow a communication protocol to establish the communication session via the path, the protocol entity potentially including one or more of the at least two entities and/or any entity that interacts with one or more of the at least two entities.”


Privacy-rights activists have a new agenda and users may remain oblivious unless they come to realize in a hard way that they are under the scanner.