Privacy

Easier Communications Encryption Challenges Snoopy Governments

|

Tin can telephone
A really, really old Swedish drawing

The other day, in my piece on Defense Distributed's success with a 3D-printed rifle receiver that stood up to hundreds of rounds (and, yes, I realize that I've been neglectful of CNC gunsmithing, which accomplishes much better results than 3D printing, though with not quite the same promise of gee-whiz ease), I discussed the development in the context of evolving technologies holding out enormous potential for protecting and expanding liberty, even in defiance of restrictive laws. Specifically, I called out communications privacy, which is all the more important now that the Supreme Court has made challenges to much government snooping dependent on first being able to prove that you've been snooped upon. Lo and behold, I write, and a new encrypted email service beckons on the horizon, offered by an entrepreneur who explicitly wants to stick it to governments in general, and the U.S. government in particular.

Encrypted email, especially in the form of PGP, has been around since the 1990s, but it's been something of a specialized taste for those with some technical savvy. I used PGP back when Eudora was my email client of choice, but I've found it to be a bitch to install on Thunderbird. Frankly, the average email user, no matter how concerned about privacy, stops right about the time the OpenPGP add-on complains that GnuPG can't be found. Huh? Thanks for the ease of use!

But Kim Dotcom of MegaUpload fame has stepped in to fill the gap. Facing prosecution for his old cloud storage service, Dotcom has not only battled extradition to the United States from New Zealand, he has started Mega, a new encrypted cloud storage service. And what better to go with your encrypted cloud storage than an encrypted means of discussing what you keep in there? Says Dotcom of his new email service, "we're going to extend this to secure email which is fully encrypted so that you won't have to worry that a government or internet service provider will be looking at your email."

Unfortunately, the eccentric German entrepreneur lost his latest battle against extradition when a Kiwi court ruled that he's not entitled to see American evidence against him. The fate of his encrypted email service may be a little … uncertain if he disappears into the tender embrace of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Interestingly, Dotcom announced his new offering via  Skype hookup. The popular video and audio communications service was once considered a pretty secure means of communication. Rumors have circulated for years, though that Skype cooperates with governments to allow surveillance. Now that the company is owned by Microsoft, it's arguably vulnerable to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act  and the FBI's "Going Dark" initiative to gain access to pretty much any exchange of information within its reach.

Fortunately, alternatives exist for both voice and video communications over the Internet — some of them free and open source. Wikipedia keeps a nice running comprison of the various offerings and their attributes. Jitsi tends to get a lot of buzz, not least for its price (free!) and security features, which in an open source offering, can be scrutinized for FBI-friendly adulterations.

Not so free, but worthy of mention because it's apparently keeping secret policemen awake at night, is Silent Circle. Founded by a former Navy SEAL, and including PGP-creator Phil Zimmerman, Silent Circle was bound to generate interest, and it's done just that. The service is reportedly designed in such a way that the company has no access to communications that would it allow it to comply with any court order. Still, Silent Circle is under pressure to make more of its source code available so the public has a better idea of what it's paying for. Journalists and human rights activists are already adopting the service for its security and ability to "burn" sensitive information once it's transferred so that no trace is left.

Governments around the world have made it clear that they want legal access to our emails, phone calls, photographs and data. The world is responding in the right way — by putting all of that sensitive information beyond the reach of the state.

NEXT: Death of Openly Gay Mississippi Mayoral Candidate Ruled Homicide

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. jhsgrdhg356345 *^fsskj .

  2. Oh Christ, you guys – Tuccille is the anon-bot!

    1. Have I told you how much money I can make from my computer at home?

      1. Sounds like a solid plan to me dude. Like wow!

      2. I wouldn’t have belieffed it until i sees the checque!How does single woman make $5000 per month on intarwebs?

      3. Gotta love those bought and paid for journalists LOL ANONSearch.biz

        1. ah ha reasonable foiled your rickrolling.

      4. My hovercraft is full of eels.

        1. When I used to do tech support for Apple, I actually got a prank call complaining about the eels in their hovercraft. I noted that Apple doesn’t make hovercrafts, and they should contact the manufacturer to get that sorted out.

          1. You should have replied “My nipples explode with delight!”

            (About 58 seconds in, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing).

          2. There was a lion flying my hovercraft and he had a tadpole in a jar.

            1. Know any good white basketball players?

              1. There are no good white basketball players.

              2. Awfully warm for this time of year, isn’t it?

    2. The GOP can still have success in California if it becomes the party of white and Asian Americans(though with the majority of the school age population Hispanic they are doomed in the long run). They need to take a stand against immigration and war. They will never win Hispanics, for they are too poor and too socialist. They aren’t going to start a business and build that. They aren’t going to know anyone who is. You think they like their current scenario, their shit jobs picking vegetables? No. They want your money.

      1. This was originally intended as a comment to the California story

        https://reason.com/archives/201…..tcontainer

      2. Hispanics are increasingly religious. I agree with you that they are way too socialist to ever vote anything but D. But their religious views may mean the Dems throw the gays over the side.

      3. Welcome back American/Liberty/Hydronium Hydroxide, etc. Asians voted Democrat in even greater numbers than Latinos did. Good luck with that. And taking a hardline on immigration isn’t even going to win over very many whites outside of places like the Central Valley and Orange County, who are already voting Republican. It especially isn’t going to be popular with young whites who will be the ones voting in future elections. As is, the GOP has to run mushy moderate celebrities or billionaires just to win the white vote

  3. Governments around the world have made it clear that they want legal access to our emails, phone calls, photographs and data.

    Government has always had legal access to our e-mails, phone calls, photographs and data. The problem is that government wants to change the definition of ‘legal’ from ‘according to the general principles of a right to privacy and First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment principles more specifically’ to ‘fuck you, that’s why’.

    1. Exactly. Governments have always had legal access. What they do not have is constant, instant, or on-demand access.

  4. Remember the Clipper Chip? Those were the days.

    1. I do. My law review article was on that abomination.

  5. offered by an entrepreneur who explicitly wants to stick it to governments in general, and the U.S. government in particular.

    I am starting to like that guy already.

  6. Someone the other day linked to an article about an underground website called “The Silk Road” where you can use bitcoin to buy drugs or pretty much anything. It is possible for the government to track you down for using the site, but the difficulty involved means they are very unlikely to provided you don’t start your own Mexican drug cartel and stick to small transactions. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but I think governments are fighting a losing battle here. The internet is too important to just shut down and impossible to control once it is up and running.

    If they can do this now, what will they have in 20 or 30 years?

    1. Conspiracy Bandit syas:

      Echelon and some well written algos can easily mine any data needed in seconds. The only defenses are keeping a low profile (don’t be a target) and being painful (Be NP=hard, have personal security protocols in place, be vigilant).

      Bruce Schnierer has a great post today about this:
      Phishing Has Gotten Very Good

  7. J.D. GNUPgP for MacMail works like a charm. If you use a mac then encrypting and signing e-mails is trivial. It actually only becomes a pain in the ass when all your friends you made get keys forget their passwords and ask you to resend in plain text.

    It also encrypts/decrypts things via the “services” menu in other applications (a block of text etc.).

    1. Thanks, and I’m aware of the many benefits of Macs. But I have Windows laptop right now.

      1. Not to sound like a fanboi but it seems as if your issues revolve around the typical compatibility requirements involved with Windows. Perhaps a nice Linux distro (Debian/REd Hat) or a Mac (Darwin) might be in your future.

        Smiley Face

    2. Seconded below.

  8. The fate of his encrypted email service may be a little … uncertain

    Yeah, ‘long about the time its users’ internet service is cut by the ISP because the government has squeezed the ISP’s balls a little to hard for allowing them to use the encryption.

  9. http://www.mecum.com/auctions/…..artRow=321

    You can now buy the actual family truckster.

  10. It’s not free, but there is a PGP webmail service based in Sweden called Countermail. They claim on their site that they won’t comply with any court order that comes from a party outside Sweden.

  11. Yeah, I used to think PGP was too awkward to use. Then I discovered this:

    https://www.gpgtools.org/

    Nicely integrated into Apple Mail, dead easy to use.

    Now if I only knew somebody else that had a public key.

  12. Silent Circle looks cool, but it’s kind of expensive.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.