Nadim Kobeissi, a Canadian and Lebanese college student, has made encrypted online communication sexy. Kobeissi is the creator of Cryptocat, an open-source web application that offers true anonymity to its users, without any required setup. While similar programs have appealed to the more computer literate, Kobeissi wants to make encrypted communication an accessible tool for everyone.
He has already gone to great lengths to make it more layman-friendly, with adorable promotions and almost no learning curve. Cryptocat requires no extra software for its use, and the stated goal is to make it as easy as Facebook Chat and Google Talk.
Kobeissi says his project is already a tool in some circles, and his Lebanese upbringing has shown him the need for easy online communication that a government cannot easily spy on, especially in the turbulent areas of the Middle East. He has seen people forego complicated OTR (off the record) communications, and suffer dire consequences:
“I have seen someone who I know knows how to use OTR not use OTR, and get tortured as a result, in Syria… OTR is not accessible, it’s not a pleasure to use.”
While the project is still being perfected, with Cryptocat 2 scheduled for release around the end of the year, Kobeissi’s work has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be, and he is subject to searches and interrogations whenever he tries to travel in the United States:
When he flies through the US, he’s generally had the notorious “SSSS” printed on his boarding pass, marking him for searches and interrogations — which Kobeissi says have focused on his development of the chat client…
His SSSS’s can mean hours of waiting, and Kobeissi says he has been searched, questioned, had his bags and even his passport taken away and returned later. But he’s kept his sense of humor about the experience, even joking from the airport on his Twitter account.
So when a man creates a means for people to communicate freely and privately, he is treated as a villain, a dangerous man who must be harassed and searched for abstract notions of “national security.”
Privacy is indeed a dangerous thing. The government says so.