Last week’s arrest in Hungary of a staffer for Senator Hillary Clinton has exposed severe privacy violations by VoIP provider Skype as well as the US National Security Agency. This according to accusations by the Hungarian police and the European Union.
The suspect, who recently left the US National Security Agency to join Clinton’s Presidential campaign, was arrested on an unrelated charge. An examination of the suspect’s briefcase revealed transcripts of a conversation between Laszlo Bene, the head of the Hungarian police, and Stefan Feller, head of the police in Brussels. According to Hungarian police, the suspect confessed that he had eavesdropped on the conversation — not by using a “bug,” but by turning on a microphone on the desk of Bene’s computer. Hungarian police refused to answer questions about the suspect’s identify or the staffer’s position within the Clinton Presidential campaign. Police in Brussels, sensitive to a series of recent police scandals, issued only a brief statement that they were investigating a possible privacy violation.
Sources in the Hungarian police department revealed that the background traffic associated with running Skype on a personal computer provides an ideal method to hide the transfer of data from an individual’s computer without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Skype can “turn on a computer’s microphone on command,” said a highly-placed source, “and no one will be the wiser.” The data are routed to servers that use speech recognition to look for suspicious phrases. Furthermore, algorithms can use the sound of keyclicks to guess at which keys are being struck, which allows anyone listening to determine now only what is being said but what is being typed.
The European Commission has opened an investigation. “The suspect worked at the US National Security Agency, where he learned of an agreement between Skype and Echelon to enable a ’spy’ mode on all Skype products,” said Alain Brun, head of data protection at the European Commission. “He used that capability to commit a serious crime. Skype is a European company, not an American one, and we intend to investigate their potential culpability in this matter very thoroughly.”
Financial analysts believe that a Skype-NSA could explain Skype’s business model. “Outside payments by government agencies would explain how Skype can hope to make a profit,” said an anonymous source at Dean Witter. “Otherwise the purchase of Skype by eBay still doesn’t make sense.”
Skype could not be reached for comment. The Clinton campaign announced that Senator Clinton would make a statement at a press conference later today.