Lavabit and Silent Circle may have shuttered their earlier encrypted email efforts under pressure to expose their customers to government spying, but that was just the beginning of a new secure communications project. The two companies, whose whole business plans are based on providing privacy, have joined forces in the Dark Mail Alliance to develop a successor to current email technology that will be much more resistant to surveillance than existing technology.
The Dark Mail Alliance describes its mission as:
To bring the world our unique end-to-end encrypted protocol and architecture that is the 'next-generation' of private and secure email. As founding partners of The Dark Mail Alliance, both Silent Circle and Lavabit will work to bring other members into the alliance, assist them in implementing the new protocol and jointly work to proliferate the worlds first end-to-end encrypted 'Email 3.0' throughout the world's email providers. Our goal is to open source the protocol and architecture and help others implement this new technology to address privacy concerns against surveillance and back door threats of any kind.
The reason for an "Email 3.0" is that the current approach to email is what Silent Circle's Mike Janke describes as "fundamentally broken from a privacy perspective." Even when encrypted, current email metadata is too easily captured, compromising the security of any communications even if the message itself is encrypted.
The new protocols and architecture are intended to be open source, and so available for scrutiny by anybody concerned about weaknesses or backdoors.
If nothing else, the NSA spying scandal may have given a huge boost to innovation in the area of protecting privacy. And this new effort may prove to be one of those steps startup guru Balaji Srinivasan urges the tech industry to take to empower individuals to "exit" the controlling power of government.
Facing similar concerns to those confronted by Lavabit and Silent Circle, secure VPN provider CryptoSeal recently stopped offering services to individuals (it still offers services at the enterprise level). As with the Dark Mail Alliance, CryptoSeal hopes to find a secure solution that would ensure privacy and security despite government efforts.
Lavabit owner Ladar Levison still faces legal action for ending his email services rather than surrender to government demands.