Skype is facing the potential for criminal charges in France if it doesn’t allow the French constabulary to listen into calls. Is that a reasonable position in the Internet age?
Rude Baguette reports that the the french telecoms authority, ARCEP has declared that because Skype provides communication capabilities to French citizens, it has to declare itself to be an electronic communications operator. Skype hasn’t done this, and you might think that this was just a matter of paper pushing and ticking the right boxes, except that a declared electronic communications operator in France has a duty to comply with the obligations of such an operator. This includes routing emergency calls — I doubt anyone would have too much of a problem with that — and the ability for French legal authorities to order call intercepts. Or, in other words, to listen in to Skype calls.
France has some notably strict online controls in place for all sorts of communications, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that the same law is in place here, or that it should be. But it did give me pause for thought.
I’ve long held the view that the things that I post online — whether as a working writer or as a private citizen — weren’t particularly private in any real way, because there’s just so many points where the data can leak out. Indeed, I argued that exact case here on Gizmodo about eighteen months ago in relation to Facebook privacy.
VoIP based services weren’t something I’d considered, because it’s all too easy to think of them as just phone calls. I wouldn’t particularly like to think that somebody’s listening in on my phone calls in a different way to the way I tend to think about online activities. However, in the case of Skype — or any other VoIP service — they’re one and the same.
What do you reckon? Do you treat all online activities as public? Should they all be private? Is there a difference between the communications in a tweet to those of a phone call?