Skype users could phone themselves into jail

Skype users could face jail and £5,000 fines if they use lie detecting software promoted by the company. Anyone using the software without telling other parties to a call on the internet telephone service could face jail, an expert has warned.

Skype, which is owned by eBay, integrated software by Israeli company KishKish into its services as a paid-for add on. The software analyses voice patterns and tells a caller when it thinks the other party to a conversation is lying.

But Sue Cullen, a privacy specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW, told weekly technology podcast OUT-LAW Radio that users could easily find themselves falling foul of the law.

"If I phoned in sick and you secretly carried out a lie detector test as my employer and I didn't even know, then I think that would be unfair by any standard," said Cullen. "If it is, and I think it is, then that would be in breach of principle one of the Data Protection Act, which means it would be unlawful."

"It would also be unlawful under RIPA [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act], which is potentially more serious," said Cullen. "That's a criminal offence, and it's engaged if there's interception of a communication. It is likely that recording what I'm saying, in this case for the purpose of conducting a lie detector test, counts as an interception."

While a breach of data protection principles involves only civil penalties at first, breaking RIPA is a serious issue and a criminal act. "Breaching RIPA is an offence for which you can receive up to two years in jail on indictment and an unlimited fine. For a summary judgment it can be a fine up to £5,000," said Cullen.

When contacted and asked whether the company was happy to be integrating and promoting such a service, Skype declined to comment. KishKish did not respond to a request for comment.

KishKish is owned by BATM, an Israeli company, and the software is said to be in use already by the US army. It analyses the stress levels in the voice of a caller and gives the user an indication of whether or not it thinks the caller is telling a lie.

"KishKish Lie Detector offers you a tool to detect the stress level of the person you talking with over Skype," says the Skype web site. "With the use of KishKish Lie Detector you can monitor in real-time the stress level of the person you talked with. This allows you to guage the level of stress and modify your questions in real time."

Skype has been the most successful company in popularising voice over internet protocol (VOIP) telephony for consumers. It offers free PC to PC phone calls over its software to anyone connected to the internet and claims to have 136 million users.

It makes its money by charging for PC to telephone calls and by selling extra services or add on software. It was bought by eBay in 2005 for cash and shares worth up to $4 billion, $1.3 billion of which was paid straight away and in cash.