A new telecomunications provider could be coming that offers that most elusive intangible in the 21st century digital world: privacy.
[Nicholas] Merrill, 39, who previously ran a New York-based Internet provider, told CNET that he's raising funds to launch a national "non-profit telecommunications provider dedicated to privacy, using ubiquitous encryption" that will sell mobile phone service and, for as little as $20 a month, Internet connectivity.
The ISP would not merely employ every technological means at its disposal, including encryption and limited logging, to protect its customers. It would also—and in practice this is likely more important—challenge government surveillance demands of dubious legality or constitutionality.
Telecommunications has become one of the premier battlegrounds for privacy, especially in the post-9/11 context. CNET explains:
A decade of revelations has underlined the intimate relationship between many telecommunications companies and Washington officialdom. Leading providers including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer telephone records to the National Security Agency; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders. An AT&T whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.
Last year, the Department of Justice began to push for a requirement that ISPs retain their users' data just in case that information could be useful in a future investigation, and just a few weeks ago the Obama Administration released new counterterrorism guidelines that would allow the government to retain records its obtained related to you for five years, up from the previous limit of 180 days.
In this context, Merrill's new project, which he says will be run through the Calyx Institute, could prove to provide a valuable service. He hopes to sell the Internet connectivity for as low as $20 a month and will also sell mobile phone service. Would you shop with an internet provider that promised to guard your privacy?