Remember Lavabit and Silent Circle, the encrypted email providers that shuttered services because they faced government pressure to enable government snooping on their customers (Silent Circle still offers other privacy services)? Well, you can add CryptoSeal to the mix. The company has ended its CryptoSeal Privacy virtual private network (VPN) service (it still offers enterprise-lever services), which was advertised as "keeps prying eyes off of your internet usage while you're at home, in a coffee shop or even another country," also over concerns about the legal environment and government snooping.
According to a note on the CryptoSeal site:
With immediate effect as of this notice, CryptoSeal Privacy, our consumer VPN service, is terminated. All cryptographic keys used in the operation of the service have been zerofilled, and while no logs were produced (by design) during operation of the service, all records created incidental to the operation of the service have been deleted to the best of our ability.
Essentially, the service was created and operated under a certain understanding of current US law, and that understanding may not currently be valid. As we are a US company and comply fully with US law, but wish to protect the privacy of our users, it is impossible for us to continue offering the CryptoSeal Privacy consumer VPN product.
Specifically, the Lavabit case, with filings released by Kevin Poulsen of Wired.com (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/801182-redacted-pleadings-exhibits-1-23.html) reveals a Government theory that if a pen register order is made on a provider, and the provider's systems do not readily facilitate full monitoring of pen register information and delivery to the Government in realtime, the Government can compel production of cryptographic keys via a warrant to support a government-provided pen trap device. Our system does not support recording any of the information commonly requested in a pen register order, and it would be technically infeasible for us to add this in a prompt manner. The consequence, being forced to turn over cryptographic keys to our entire system on the strength of a pen register order, is unreasonable in our opinion, and likely unconstitutional, but until this matter is settled, we are unable to proceed with our service.
We encourage anyone interested in this issue to support Ladar Levison and Lavabit in their ongoing legal battle. Donations can be made at https://rally.org/lavabit We believe Lavabit is an excellent test case for this issue.
We are actively investigating alternative technical ways to provide a consumer privacy VPN service in the future, in compliance with the law (even the Government's current interpretation of pen register orders and compelled key disclosure) without compromising user privacy, but do not have an estimated release date at this time.
To our affected users: we are sincerely sorry for any inconvenience. For any users with positive account balances at the time of this action, we will provide 1 year subscriptions to a non-US VPN service of mutual selection, as well as a refund of your service balance, and free service for 1 year if/when we relaunch a consumer privacy VPN service. Thank you for your support, and we hope this will ease the inconvenience of our service terminating.
For anyone operating a VPN, mail, or other communications provider in the US, we believe it would be prudent to evaluate whether a pen register order could be used to compel you to divulge SSL keys protecting message contents, and if so, to take appropriate action.
The company's promise to consider restoring service "in compliance with the law (even the Government's current interpretation of pen register orders and compelled key disclosure)" may not be entirely encouraging to customers especially concerned about the surveillance state. Such a restored service would very likely shield users from everybody except the U.S. government and its established snooping habits as administered by the NSA, the FBI and an alphabet soup of other agencies, federal state, and local. That is, it's unlikely to be able to truly protect user privacy. Lavabit owner Ladar Levison compares the modern American surveillance state to the McCarthy era and recommends "against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."
But it's a big world, and one in which Google now offers VPN tools intended to frustrate governments outside the United States. Certainly, a company or two based elsewhere should be willing to return the favor.