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Prism latest: Skype accused of setting up Project Chess for surveillance

Skype allegedly set up a secret surveillance programme called Project Chess to give US spy authorities access to users' information

The programme, which is part of the wider Prism scandal, was designed to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies access to calls and chats, according to sources cited by The New York Times, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid trouble with authorities.

The sources say that Project Chess began five years ago, long before Microsoft's $8.5 billion (£5.5 billion) acquisition in late 2011. Apparently less than a dozen people in the company were aware of it and it was allegedly set up to deal with contentious legal issues.

Documents from the Prism programme, which were recently leaked by ex-CIA official Edward Snowden, show that Skype joined up in early 2011. This suggests a gap between when it set up Project Chess and finally joined Prism, though in theory it might have been approached to join earlier.

The revelations contradict earlier comments by Skype. Mark Gillett, corporate vice president of Engineering & Operations at Skype wrote a detailed blog post last July denying that changes to Skype were made to give law enforcement easy access. He also denied that Skype monitors and records video and audio calls.

The New York Times also reported that Max Kelly, the former chief security officer for Facebook, left the social networking company in 2010 and joined the NSA, revealing a worrying interconnection between technology firms and government snoops.