Free Markets

New Telecomm Provider Would Put Privacy First


government in your internets

A new telecomunications provider could be coming that offers that most elusive intangible in the 21st century digital world: privacy.

CNET reports:

[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?

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    1. Couldn’t IRS just blow up his business plan by denying him tax-exempt non-profit 501(c)3 status?

  1. National Security Nut: Anyone using this service is doing so because they have something to hide.

    1. Yes, I prefer to keep my private information private.

  2. On topic, while I respect this guy for trying, I suspect he may find that “regulatory” issues are crippling him as he creates his business.

    1. Exactly. It’s clear the scumbag politicians have decided that regulation can be their end run around any restrictions on their power.

    2. I doubt it will even be necessary. I can’t imagine this getting off the ground. AFAICT the only selling point is privacy. The service will necessarily cost more than the competition (for the lawyers he’ll need if for nothing else).

      And really, this is about communication. So unless both parties are using the service the communication isn’t encrypted at all.

      1. And really, this is about communication. So unless both parties are using the service the communication isn’t encrypted at all.

        That was what I was thinking. For internet, I guess the service could be something like Tor, but I don’t see how you could do this for phone, or even email unless both ends were secured. I can also see TSA using his customer list as a nice place to get names for the no-fly list.

      2. Not to mention all of the hackers who will see this as a challange. Every security breach is a direct hit on the company since that is what they’re selling. Most people are not going to pay more even though they may bitch about privacy.

      3. It could be cheaper than the competition, because he won’t have to pay to store user data for as long. If it’s been deleted, you can’t subpoena it.

  3. Wow, that’s not pie in the sky at all.

  4. I dumped Verizon years ago because of their bootlicking. I would sign up for this new service in a New York minute.

  5. *Telecom


    Get your jargon up, son.

    1. Unless you’re British or what not. Then it’s “telecomms” and “maths” and all that.

  6. Off-Topic: Simpsons live in Springfield, Oregon.…..c=y&page=1

    1. Totally called it as somewhere in the pacific northwest. Only area with close to the wide range of terrains they depicted within short driving distance of Evergreen Terrace.

  7. The premise behind the entire undertaking is that this is still mostly a constitutional republic of limited, frugal government, where you can WTF ITS UNJUST AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL your way out of stupid government shit. I hope to God he succeeds, but I can already smell the putrid bullshit spewing forth from the mouths of federal prosecutors as they skull-fuck Merrill and his enterprise into ruin.

    I wish you could just teleport all the monuments and historic buildings out of DC and then nuke the fucking cesspool from orbit.

    1. You could always buid more monuments. Unfortunately the cockroaches will most likely return as well.

      1. Th biggest fucking crime is that the Stars and Stripes still flies atop federal buildings. I don’t know who the fuck the federales think they are, but they sure as shit aren’t the legitimate, constitutionally authorized government of the United States.

    2. Fine by me, but just give me fair warning, mkay? I’ll need an hour to get home and another to pack up my essentials. Then you can have at it.

    3. I think your five years’ of NSA data logging just started.

  8. This is great, and a nice step in the right direction. My only issue is that it is nonprofit – I’d rather have a for-profit entity running my internet.

    Look at the total disaster that is the Raspberry Pi’s launch if you need any proof. A whole computer for $35, but in the interest of keeping costs low they refused to take pre-orders or engage in any sort of price discrimination and ended up with around 1000x more demand than they could supply. Now it is around 5 months after they were first promising to ship and they have yet to ship a single production unit.

  9. This is never going to happen. He’s going to burn his million and more just on lawyer fees. The encryption exemption to CALEA is “unless the encryption was provided by the carrier and the carrier possesses the information necessary to decrypt the communication”. Unlikely he would be able to design and operate a network that would be able to meet those standards and still present a service that just works for the subscriber without substantial work on their part.

    Meanwhile, his network would still need other information about the call such as who originated, who was called, length and other metadata to complete the call. All of that would be required to be turned over.

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