Personal email and private clouds fall in war on privacy

Not content to track smartphone and Internet use, the industrial surveillance state claims two more casualties

Here's how bad it's become: Yesterday, two "secure" email service providers decided they'd rather close up shop than cooperate with the United Spooks of America.

First, Lavabits founder Ladar Levison posted a notice to his 350,000 customers saying he was shutting down the service, effectively immediately. His letter has since shot around the Internet thousands of times, but the salient bits are worth repeating.

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In his farewell missive, Levison asserts:

I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what's going on -- the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

Here's a clue. If you ask someone whether our Constitutional rights are being flushed down the porcelain oubliette, and their response is, "If I answer that honestly they'll arrest me," then you already have your answer.

Silent Circle goes silent
Shortly after Levison posted his corporate suicide note, another service called Silent Circle decided to pack it in, too, and shut down its Silent Mail product. Its reasoning:

Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same security guarantees that real-time communications has. There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves. Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure.... We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.

The company is, however, keeping Silent Phone and Silent Text alive, because their end-to-end encryption cannot be so easily compromised.

The fact that this all happened on the 39th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation seems appropriate somehow. It was the excesses of the Nixon administration that brought about the "reforms" in our intelligence services. The Pentagon Papers and Watergate inspired Congress to look into J. Edgar Hoover's illegal wiretaps, the CIA's secret assassination plots, and the FBI's infiltration of student protest groups. It ultimately led to the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was supposed to allow our nation's spooks to spy on threats to the United States without trampling the rights of the rest of us.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The spy who logged me
The revelations of misdeeds by the Industrial surveillance complex keep coming, and there appears to be no end in sight. Over the last week we've learned the following:

• All kinds of government agencies are clamoring to get their hands on that juicy data the NSA claims it's not really collecting about all of us, for reasons that have not one thing to do with terrorism. According to the New York Times, the NSA fends off most of these requests because they are "lower priority." In other words, it's the NSA's data and it wants to keep it, but apparently not in every case (see my next point).

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