The Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg has reported that Skype has been fined €30,000, or about $33,000, for not intercepting the communications of its users. In 2012, the company received a court to turn over communications connected to a criminal organization that was under investigation. Skype turned over the metadata associated with those communications but argued that Skype’s architecture made it impossible to access the content of the conversations.
Skype also argued that it doesn’t fall under Belgian jurisdiction because the company has no employees or infrastructure in the country. The company stated that Belgium should have used the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process with Luxembourg, the country where the company is headquartered, if law enforcement required access to data. Belgian prosecutor Tim Hoogenbemt stated, “Skype offers services in our country, so it needs to know the laws. And therefore know that the court may ask interception measures.”
Skype claimed that the law did not apply to it because the company was a software provider and not a service provider. A spokesperson for the company told The Register, “Law enforcement plays an important role in keeping communities safe, but legal process must also protect personal privacy and respect international borders. We are reviewing the decision and are considering our legal options.” The company has up to three years to appeal the decision.
A fine of $33,000 fine is not likely to seriously harm the Microsoft owned company, but it could set a precedent for more fines in the future. This could hurt Skype and other communication service providers in the long run. This case is similar to the situation faced by WhatsApp in Brazil. WhatsApp faced punitive measures in Brazil on multiple occasions because it would not turn over communications to police when served with a court order. However, Brazil’s supreme court eventually stepped in to overturn the punishments issued against WhatsApp.
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