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Privacy Oriented Services Closing Down Under Fear of US Government Demands

by on09 August 2013 2274 times
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The US Government is trying very hard to shatter any illusions that we might have about the right to privacy on the internet. They are currently in the process of going after a few of the smaller privacy oriented email services with the intent of getting user information out of them; very specific user information. Right now the current focus is on the company Lavabit who has the unfortunate distinction of having been used by Edward Snowden on multiple occasions to send email to the press and others. This distinction has gotten them into some hot water and now they are actually closing their doors in order to not comply with a government request to hand over the contents of Snowden’s email (and possibly others). This incident has sent a shiver through the small yet strong market for private email and web services.

 

It was only about a week ago that someone compromised anonymous site host Freedom Hosting and poisoned many of their sites to gather user IP information. Although that particular attack has not been confirmed as being from the US government the general speculation is that they were, at the very least, involved. However, there are some other possibilities in this particular case. Some seem to think that it could have been Anonymous that performed the hack because Freedom Hosting is known to have hosted child pornography websites in the past. Anonymous had vowed to remove any sites they found and expose their visitors. So you can see how this might have bearing on who actually did what.

Still even with the attack on the TOR Network and the compromise of Freedom Hosting’s websites things are certainly getting worse for privacy. Before the recent round of government requests it was a firmly held belief that if a company did not have the encryption keys for someone’s data (or had no ability to access that data) then it could not be compelled to hand anything over. It was one of the founding principles for the Calyx Institute. The ISP would never know or have access to the passwords or encryption keys of their users so they would never be able to hand anything over. Sadly it looks like that is not correct anymore as we now know of at least one company that be being compelled to do so.

For a company facing this type of request thing are often very dire. US Law enforcement at the government level is not known for their subtlety or concern for the business (or their customers legitimate or other). They will often grab entire racks of servers when only one belongs to the person under investigation. They also feel no compulsion to return legitimate users their data. A very public example of this is the seizure of the servers for Megaupload. Ever server that Megaupload owned or was using was seized. Carpathia hosting was required to maintain these servers, but not to allow any access to the files in them. Legitimate users were without their data for months as the US DoJ crowed about how they were sending a message to everyone. This is most likely the reason that privacy oriented services are shutting down right now. If they close their doors they can avoid the requirement to give up data while working in the background to move to a host not inside the US or at least get data back to their users without government interference.

Sadly Snowden’s leak of what the NSA is up to, the coverage of just how far the US is willing to go to spy on their own citizens and the Megaupload case have sent a message to companies looking to provide services to people. US Law Enforcement does not care about your legitimate customers, if you have a single bad guy using your service they are going to close you down and make you suffer for it. We expect to see more of these services drop offline or simply go deeper into the hidden side of the internet as the invasion into our daily lives and communication continues.

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Last modified on 09 August 2013
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