Belgian court fines Skype for failing to intercept criminals' calls in 2012

It's technically impossible to do what you want, Skype said


Belgium has fined Skype €30,000 for failing to comply with a court request to intercept users' communications, something Skype claims was technically impossible at the time of the request.

According to Het Belang van Limburg, a Dutch-language newspaper in Belgium, the fine was delivered by the court in Mechelen because Skype had failed, in September 2012, to deliver up anything more than metadata in response to an investigation into a criminal organisation.

The gang under investigation mostly used Skype to communicate, and those communications were requested by the court. Skype provided the court with metadata, but explained that it was impossible in 2012 to provide access to users' conversations because of the architecture it used.

Additionally, the Microsoft-owned company argued that it actually didn't fall under Belgian jurisdiction. Microsoft has no infrastructure in Belgium, nor any Skype employees. The corporation argued that if law enforcement needed data it should have engaged in the regular Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process with Luxembourg.

Het Belang van Limburg quoted prosecutor Tim Hoogenbemt as saying: "Skype offers services in our country, so it needs to know the laws. And therefore know that the court may ask interception measures." Skype refuted this claim, however, arguing that the legislation cited did not apply to it as it was a software provider, rather than a service provider.

A spokesperson for Skype 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."

Skype has up to three years to appeal the decision, at which point the case may escalate up the proverbial municipal ladder. ®

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