Last week encrypted email service provider Lavabit announced they were shutting down. While the subject of the summer has been Edward Snowden and the documents he has leaked out, what many people may not be aware of is that several federal investigations have been ongoing. Snowden’s email account of record was with Lavabit, a secure email service provider and the CEO responded (without responding in a way) and made the statement that the service was shutting down, and was bound to a gag order on what the government is asking of the company in the course of their investigation. Not too long after that another privacy email provider Silent Circle shut down their operations as they “saw the writing on the wall”. But before you think it’s all over – just hold on – It turns out internet maverick Kim Dotcom and his company Mega are working on something of their own. Reports are that Mega is building a similar high security email service that will not have any servers on US soil. This is similar to how Mega’s filesharing service is currently hosted, you may recall Mega’s prior filesharing service was once raided and shut down on US territory based on copyright and pirate issues.
Mega’s Email Project
Mega is working on a high-encryption email service that is aiming to be both full-featured and secure. The project is currently focused on the client-side functionality of things as the act of encryption forces it into this kind of development. According to reports, there is a great deal of development as there hasn’t been a service like it. Also notice that Mega’s file service reportedly doesn’t retain its customer decryption keys – an act that means Mega could not be coerced into revealing customer information in any situation. This encryption scheme will likely extend to the email service, meaning whatever Mega is building if successful, will probably stay private.
The man behind these projects is Vikram Kumar, who has been Mega’s Chief Executive since February of this year. He put out a blog statement on the matter of Silent Circle and Lavabit:
The term ‘seppuku’ is a reference to a Japanese samurai practice of honor-based ritual suicide. This suggests that Lavabit would not compromise their contract with users in protecting data and privacy and instead shut down altogether. It is an act that is resonating with the privacy community and has been a call to action for Mega to emerge with this pledge and service.
Is Privacy Seppuku merely a honourable end or is there a bigger logic at play here? Does it really make a difference to the surveillance state? Does it make good business sense? Will the big boys, like Google and Microsoft, follow?
Kumar quotes from the privacy-focused provider CryptoCloud:
users of network services now have a reasonable concern that they are being spied on by their tech tools – not only the ones already “outed” as snitchware, but also those claiming vehemently not to be such. Worse, because the court orders compelling these activities are themselves secret and require their targets to remain secret or face contempt of court charges (possible federal felonies, in the U.S.), silence is not good news. Not at all. We’re all sort of cringing and cowering, unsure who to trust – or whether to trust anyone at all.
Kumar also quotes Snowden’s statement on the big boys: Google Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo on why they aren’t fighting for interests. On why their only statement has been to state that they were compelled by laws they don’t agree with.
the big boys aren’t going to go down the path of Privacy Seppuku. They are deep in cahoots with the US Government.
Finally, Kumar suggests however that other companies should follow suit with Corporate Seppuku for freedom and for the internet – no compromise:
As explained by game theory, this requires widespread adoption. Both Cryptocloud and Cryptocat have signed up as I suspect will others.
Kumar and Mega have seen an opportunity yet again to run flippant to US jurisdiction in this continuing fight against the intrusion of privacy and surveillance. It appears their mantra is it’s a free, private internet or nothing, and they’re asking others to take that pledge and join in. So if you missed out on Lavabit, and you’re already a Mega user – standby for their email product.