by Louis Charbonneau
November 22, 2007
WIESBADEN, Germany (Reuters)
German police are unable to decipher the
encryption used in the Internet telephone software Skype to monitor calls by
suspected criminals and terrorists, Germany's top police officer said on
Skype allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet from their
computer to other Skype users free of charge.
Law enforcement agencies and intelligence services have used wiretaps since
the telephone was invented, but implementing them is much more complex in
the modern telecommunications market where the providers are often foreign
"The encryption with Skype telephone software... creates grave difficulties
for us," Joerg Ziercke, president of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA)
told reporters at an annual gathering of security and law enforcement
"We can't decipher it. That's why we're talking about source
telecommunication surveillance - that is, getting to the source before
encryption or after it's been decrypted."
Experts say Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling
software are difficult to intercept because they work by breaking up voice
data into small packets and switching them along thousands of router paths
instead of a constant circuit between two parties, as with a traditional
Ziercke said they were not asking Skype to divulge its encryption keys or
leave "back doors open" for German and other country's law enforcement
"There are no discussions with Skype. I don't think that would help," he
said, adding that he did not want to harm the competitiveness of any
company. "I don't think that any provider would go for that."
Ziercke said there was a vital need for German law enforcement agencies to
have the ability to conduct on-line searches of computer hard drives of
suspected terrorists using "Trojan horse" spyware.
These searches are especially important in cases where the suspects are
aware that their Internet traffic and phone calls may be monitored and
choose to store sensitive information directly on their hard drives without
Spyware computer searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive
about police surveillance due to the history of the Nazis' Gestapo secret
police and the former East German
Ziercke said worries were overblown and that on-line searches would need to
be conducted only on rare occasions.
"We currently have 230 proceedings related to suspected Islamists," Ziercke
said. "I can imagine that in two or three of those we would like to do