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French Authorities Want to Tap (and Tax) Skype Calls

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, May 23 2013

Paris, France ( Wikipedia)

In spite of repeated requests from the French telecommunications authorities ARCEP, Skype has refused to classify itself as an electronic communications operator in France, which would require them to route emergency calls and allow the French police to intercept conversations. ARCEP has informed the Paris public prosecutor of Skype's refusal, and criminal charges might be brought against the company for failing to comply. This is yet another instance in recent months of France making things difficult for tech companies. Some worry that the overzealous government is discouraging technological progress in France, hindering business and economic growth.

At first glance this looks like a privacy and netizen rights issue, but one UK publication found that “Such a declaration would make Skype's French earnings subject to tax, but ARCEP denies that this is a factor in its demand.” That bit about taxes was not in the ARCEP press release, which framed the pursuit of Skype as a defense of French law:

The fact of engaging in the business of electronic communications operator, and particularly the fact of providing a telephone service to the public, also implies compliance with certain obligations, which include the routing of emergency calls and implementing the means required to perform legally order interceptions. . . In keeping with his responsibility to enure that these essential provisions of France's electronic communications law are upheld. . . the Chairman of ARCEP has apprised the Paris public prosecutor of these facts, which could be classified as a criminal offence [sic].

Although Skype does sound like an electronic communications operator – the app basically makes your computer into a phone, what else could it be? – the French telecom authorities might actually be overstepping. ARCEP's demand goes against existing European Union law, which does not find Skype and comparable Internet services to be telecom companies. Also suspicious: Skype was created more than a decade ago, and ARCEP has only taken this to the prosecutor now?

Assuming it is about the money, some warn France not to discourage technological growth “due to the lobbying of once great industries that are clamouring [sic] to protect their status and position.”

The issue is out of ARCEP's control now. If the Paris prosecutor does pursue criminal charges, it will be interesting to see if Skype plays ball or bails.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.