Too Damn Skype


The wheels of legislative oversight turn slowly, and by the time Congress gets around to reining in Bush’s warrantless phone-tap program, we could all be wearing that lovely Guantánamo Bay shade of orange. Fortunately, computer code ships faster than legal code, and it wouldn’t take more than a few good geeks and a month’s supply of Red Bull to whip up an alternative solution: A fully encrypted open-source version of the free voice-over-Internet phone program Skype ( For that matter, even using the existing version of Skype (as some 52 million people already do) probably does more to protect your privacy than the Senate Intelligence Committee ever will: All Skype-to-Skype calls, according to the program docs, are encrypted with a 256-bit key that experts say is likely strong enough to thwart the kind of broad message-sniffing the White House has authorized.

It’s some comfort, too, that the company that owns Skype is based in Luxembourg and not Texas (corporate home of AT&T, cheerful collaborator with W.’s warrant-free snoops). But therein buzzes the fly in this ointment. The fact that Skype is owned at all—and not the unclaimed product of a swarm of hackers loosely joined, as are Linux, Firefox, and other open-source programs—shoots two holes in its reliability as a privacy shield. For one thing, like most commercial software owners, Skype’s won’t open up its source code for inspection, making it difficult to verify that the program’s security features work as advertised. For another, as do-no-evil Google’s craven cooperation with Chinese thought police shows, even the most powerful of corporations can succumb to the pressures of foreign governments if the markets at stake are big enough. What to do then? Like I said: Clone the code, open up Skype. Hey, I’m good for the Red Bull. Who wants to get hacking?